The Powys Tax Rebellion

“I will find you and your money” announced Chancellor George Osbourne in 2011. He was speaking after negotiations with Swiss Banks about tackling tax avoidance. Tory millionaire Osbourne claimed that “Tax avoidance is morally repugnant.”

Of course he didn’t mean it.  Because while the most vulnerable in society are suffering massive cuts to their incomes, multinational corporate giants are still getting away with billions in unpaid tax.

According to Tax Research UK we lose out on over £120bn in tax each year, enough to clear the deficit that politicians keep banging on about. Companies like Asda, Google, Apple, eBay, Starbucks and Vodaphone pay minimal tax on their massive UK profits. Cafe Nero hasn’t paid any UK corporation tax since 2008!

All this tax avoidance is done legally using loopholes that allow companies to divert their money to other countries where tax levels are much lower. Successive governments have failed to close these loopholes preferring to blame the unemployed, refugees and the EU for our financial situation.

Now a group of Independent traders in Crickhowell have found another way to force politicians to act.  The group which includes the local coffee shop, bakery, optician, and book shop are exploiting the same tax loopholes by moving the town ‘offshore’.

“We were shocked to discover that the revenue generated by hard-working employees in these British high street chains isn’t declared”. Said Jo Carthew who runs Black Mountain Smokery in the town,” We do want to pay our taxes because we all use local schools and hospitals but we want a change of law so everyone pays their fair share.”

“Until now, these complicated offshore tricks have only been open to big companies who can afford the lawyers’ fees. But we’ve put our heads together, and worked out a way to mimic them.”

Everything the traders have proposed is legal and they have met with HMRC to discuss their plans.

Coffee shop owner Steve said “I have always paid every penny of tax I owe, and I don’t object to that. What I object to is paying my full tax when my big name competitors are doing the damnedest to dodge theirs.”

One of the town’s traders discovered that he paid seven times more in corporation tax than Facebook, which paid less than £5,000 in the UK last year!

They hope that their DIY tax avoidance scheme could go national and force politicians to act.

The story of the Powys tax rebellion is to be covered in a BBC documentary to be aired in early 2016.

Luther Blissett

 

Basics of organising #2 – Evaluating issues

Community housing protestThere are basic tools and principles to community organising, but they are not templates. They must be evaluated and adapted to meet the needs of your local situation. The success of your organising drive will not depend upon this article – only your hard work and dedication to organising will make changes happen.

 

Evaluating issues

Just because you think it is an issue it does not make it an issue.

Just because you think it is not an issue it does not mean it is not an issue.

When you find what appears to be an issue, three questions must be asked:

• Can people be mobilised around this?

• Is it specific?

• Can something be done to change this situation?

If people cannot be mobilised around an issue, then you do not have an issue. A good way to ‘test’ an issue is to call several friends or family members, talk about the situation and then ask would they be interested in getting a few people together to talk about what can be done? Or bring it up at the ‘any other business’ of your community organisation’s meeting to see what kind of reaction you get.

Issues must be made specific before anything can be done: there is a big difference between a concern and an issue. You can’t do anything about concerns, but you can win issues! Bad housing is a concern. The block of flats on Goldman Street with no heating, broken front door, owned by absentee landlord Mr Smith, is an issue and can be organised on. Healthcare is a concern. The fact that the local pharmacy will not sell cheap generic drugs is an issue. When people say that the ‘community is rundown’, that is a concern. But you can make it into an issue by getting them to define what they mean by ‘rundown’. It could mean there are potholes in the streets, that a streetlight is broken, or that there is a lot of vandalism or anti-social behaviour. To be something that an organisation can work on, the concern must be translated into a specific issue.

Can something be done or changed? Your local organisation on its own may not be able to take on the packaging industry but it can organise a community litter-pick or make sure the local council provides enough bins or a regular street sweeping service. You must make sure the issues your organisation takes on are not beyond the scope and power of your organisation and that you can realistically expect to win or change something about the issue.

A couple of other points about issues: If you are going to attack an issue which looks like it will take a long time to win, then you have to set up and celebrate intermediate victories.

• ‘The issue is really moving now, we have been offered a meeting with the head of housing.’

• ‘The council have agreed to give us 10 new bins for the area. We are rolling now!’

Also, in a long organising drive, make sure you have plenty of alternative targets. You cannot ask people to picket an enemy every Saturday for six months. You must look for alternate targets. Does the enemy sit on a board of directors of some agency or business? Then visit that agency or business and ask associates there to call your enemy and come to a meeting. Does the enemy belong to any clubs or organisations or a church? The same type of visit can be made. One group even went to the home of a mayor in the suburb where their enemy lived and asked the mayor to give our enemy a call to come to a meeting. The enemy’s associates are usually willing to make these phone calls because they want to get out of the controversy.

In a long organising drive there have to be alternative targets so people do not get bored and so the enemy has pressure coming from a variety of sources at the same time.

Remember the two sentences at the head of this section. Organisations have organised on some very strange issues, have won and built the organisation. Some examples of these issues: shopping trolleys, bells on ice cream trucks, toilet paper at the school. None of these is earth shaking, but they were won, a constituency was built and the organisation moved on to bigger issues.

This text was originally published by National Training and Information Centre, USA 1985 and written by Shel Trapp. Large sections have been edited or otherwise omitted.

What anarchists think #4 – Organisation

Anarchist organisationWhat is ‘organisation’? It’s a vast subject so let’s think about one kind of organisation relevant to anarchists, the ‘revolutionary organisation’. Each kind of organisation has its own purpose enabling people to accomplish what they cannot individually, harnessing energy and resources in productive ways.

However, organisations are not pure rational constructs. They have their own culture, often obscured by formal structures. Strip away the theoretical organisation of states, corporations and political parties and you reveal the hierarchy, authority, fear and greed that is true organisation in a capitalist society. Because of this some anarchists reject not only the ‘ordering’ imposed on our minds by capitalist society but all forms of organisation. We at the Heckler recognise the problems of organisation but accept that it is necessary for achieving a libertarian society. What is important is to build organisations that are a practical example of anarchist-communist ideas.

 

Determination and solidarity

To create effective organisations we must know our own and other’s minds, therefore there must be a high degree of communication and sharing. We must set about creating aspiration, setting achievable targets, celebrating success, rededicating ourselves again and again to the reasons why we have formed or participate in the organisation. And because organisation is a mutual, sharing activity these things cannot be contained within one mind or merely thought but acted out and given a tangible existence through words and actions. At the same time, we must remain individuals, capable of independent and objective appraisal, not cogs in some vast machine.

What then is the purpose of ‘revolutionary organisation’? Can it be described? Given that the need for revolution already exists, a revolutionary organisation must increase the demand for it.
It must increase the measurable ‘weight’ or ‘force’ of the resources joined to demand revolution. The structure must increase the ability of the organisation to perpetuate itself while its ends remain unrealised.

It must be flexible, be able to absorb or deflect change or challenges to it, have the ability to change or cease as circumstances dictate and the self-knowledge to initiate change when change is required. High levels of positive communication, mutual respect and celebration, shared aspirations and solidarity all describe the revolutionary organisation.

 

Creating a revolutionary structure

Anarchists in a free society will be self-ordering and society will be self-regulating.  The organisations we construct will arise out of the needs of the moment, filtered by our knowledge and perceptions. Organisations, whether free associations, collectives, federations, communes or ‘families’ will be fluid and flexible but retain the ability to persist. They will be responsive to individual and social need. They will have a structure and culture matching the needs, beliefs and purpose of members. They will not have the super-ordered, monolithic or divergent cultures of competition, fragmentation, subordination or conflict that exist within organisations today.

Creating organisations that have a revolutionary structure is an act of revolution itself. The more we do it, successfully, the better we will be at making the revolution and the closer we will be to achieving revolution.

Working as an organisation can make our interventions in the class struggle stronger and our ideas clearer than they could be alone, and though we still have a long and hard road to travel, ever increasing co-ordination is unmistakably the way forward.

A powerful revolutionary organisation will not come about by people simply agreeing with each other. Only through the dynamics of working together can we achieve the unity of activity and theory necessary to bring about a free and equal society.

“Anarchism is organisation, organisation and more organisation.” Errico Malatesta

Basics of organising #1 – Researching the issues

Researching the issuesThere are basic tools and principles to community organising, but they are not templates. They must be evaluated and adapted to meet the needs of your local situation. The success of your organising drive will not depend upon this article – only your hard work and dedication to organising will make changes happen.

 

Researching the issues: Door-knocking

We go out into the community knocking on doors to find out what the community is thinking and feeling. What do people feel or think about the community? What do they want to see changed? Improved? Most organisations have found that door-knocking is the best technique to obtain that input.

When you are door-knocking, you are basically either ‘fishing’ or ‘pushing’, or some combination of the two. When door-knocking you have about 30 seconds to identify yourself, state your purpose and convince the person behind the door that you are not a debt collector, selling bibles or casing their home for a break-in. Recognising this, you must immediately identify yourself and try to mention some organisation which the people will know.

“Hello, I’m _____ and I work with the [local community action/campaign group etc.]. We are talking with people in the area to get their ideas on how the community can be improved.”

 

Fishing — This is when you are attempting to find an issue. After the introduction, you might say something like:

“If you could change one thing in the community, what would it be?”

“What do you think should be done to improve the community?”

If this gets no specific response, you might suggest something you have seen in the area.

“I noticed the house on the corner is boarded up, do you know who owns it?”

This should shift the discussion to a specific and what might be done about it. When fishing, you will usually get general responses such as:

“The neighbourhood is run down.”

“The neighbourhood is so dirty.”

“The neighbourhood isn’t like it used to be.”

Your job is to make these general responses into something specific by asking questions:

“What do you mean by dirty?”

“Can you point to one specific spot that is particularly dirty?”

Once you get a specific issue, then you ask:

“Would you be willing to come to a meeting about the empty house on the corner?”

Depending upon how strongly you think the person feels about the issue, you may even ask if the meeting could be held in his or her home next Tuesday (depending on space and the numbers expected). If the person agrees to hold the meeting, then you will probably stop fishing and start pushing when you move to the next door.

 

Pushing — This differs from fishing in that not only do you have an issue already, you have a date, time, and place for the meeting. After the introduction:

“A lot of the neighbours are complaining about the empty house on the comer. We are getting together next Tuesday at 7:30 above the pub on the corner. This is a good time to get something done about the house once and for all. Will you be able to come?”

If there is interest, repeat the date, time and place, give a flyer and ask if there is anyone else they can talk with about the meeting. If there seems little interest:

“Well, there will be time to discuss other issues. What would you like to see something done something about?”

The trick is to get people out and discussing their concerns with other neighbours.

 

Hints

• You may want to ask for a phone number. This depends on how comfortable the person feels with you. It can be a threat to some people.

• If you take notes in front of people, tell them what you are doing so they do not think you are taking notes about the make of their TV. “I’m making a note that you brought up the problem with the rats so I don’t forget it.”

A good method is to carry little cards in your pocket, and as you are walking to the next house merely write down the address and the issue.

No. 43 – rats

No. 44 – hates the organisation

No. 45 – promised info on an underhand councillor

When you get back home, you can see what follow-up you must do. Also, the next time you go to the area you can take your cards so you have a point of reference to begin talking with people.

• If you promise information to people, make sure you get it to them.

• If you are asked a question for which you don’t know the answer, don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know. Honesty is better than making a fool of yourself.

• If you are met with hostility, don’t get into an argument. You won’t win anyway, and you will merely turn the person off to your organisation. Simply offer thanks for the time and move on.

• Dress in an acceptable way for the community.

• Do not wear badges other than an organisation button; the person behind the door may not support your particular concern.

• Remember, you are an intrusion into the life of the person behind the door.

 

Researching the issues: Questionnaires

A less intrusive method of finding out people’s concerns (albeit one with a lower response rate) is a questionnaire. This can be posted door to door around a neighbourhood and could ask questions like:

“What issues affect you and your family?”

“What would make your neighbourhood a better place to live in?”

“If you could change one thing about your city, what would it be and why?”

Also ask for a name and address or some other form of contact. Without the pressure of a stranger on the doorstep, the resident may give a more honest and detailed answer. These can then be posted back to your organisation or an arrangement could be made with the local shop or pub to have them dropped into there and collected regularly by you.

 

This text was originally published by National Training and Information Centre, USA 1985 and written by Shel Trapp. Large sections have been edited or otherwise omitted.

A movement of people

Movement of peopleWhen David Cameron came to power in 2010, he pledged to reduce net annual immigration into the UK to below 100,000. It is still running at over 200,000. More desperate people than ever pile up at Calais trying to get in, and the number of ‘illegal immigrants’ caught trying to enter Britain has quadrupled since 2010.

Concern over immigration – some of it understandable, some of it racist, much of it ill-informed – lies behind the rise of UKIP. But even if Nigel Farage and his friends came to power, would they be any more effective than the Tories at stemming the influx? Withdrawal from the EU might reduce the number of east Europeans arriving, though it would also mean taking back some of the expats who retired to the sunny half of Europe in the days when property there looked like a good investment. But the pressure from the millions of refugees and dispossessed who risk their savings and their lives crossing deserts and oceans to reach the eldorado that we in the industrialised countries take for granted is not going to fade away just because a demagogue is momentarily a darling of the hustings.

The root cause of the migration taking place across the world is the huge disparity of wealth between rich countries and poor. The disparity is easily traced back to the ‘great divergance’ when European nations became far richer than everyone else by colonising much of the world and developing fossil fuel energy. Their vast wealth was built on stolen resources, and largely processed by forced labour which often required shipping people around the world. Nowadays many people ship themselves voluntarily, but the inequalities are greater than ever, and so are the movements.

When, during the 20th century, citizens united in a failed attempt to create a fairer world through the socialist international, the capitalist countries vaunted their privileged lifestyle from the other side of the Iron Curtain. ‘Come and join us,’ they beckoned – without explaining that the flipside of the capitalist wealth was the misery of those in the global south who produced it. Socialist governments introduced measures to prevent their citizens emigrating, but this only enabled western countries to portray themselves as bastions of liberty.

What rejoicing there was when the Berlin Wall came down! ‘Welcome to the west,’ the capitalists cried, and the EU was expanded eastwards at breakneck speed. Two decades later, populist politicians in the UK are chasing cheap votes by loudly proclaiming that liberated citizens of those former socialist countries should stay at home.

Population movements certainly bring changes, some welcome and some less so. If it is true that immigration is changing British culture, that may be the price Britain has to pay for having pillaged so many other countries. But in many ways, British culture (whatever that is) is greatly enriched by new arrivals.

The only way to reduce the flow of immigrants will be to rid the world of economic and social injustice. Enabling immigration is one way of achieving this – not least because the remittances that immigrants, be they Romanians or Rwandans, send back to their home countries, dwarf the miserable amounts many rich countries donate in aid. Welcoming immigrants is perhaps Britain’s best chance of paying back the debt it owes to the rest of the world.

The Land