Charities and unions rally to support UK Uncut

A policeman during the 'March for the Alternative'. Campaigners have complained about the police response to the Fortnum and Masons occupation.
A policeman during the 'March for the Alternative'. Campaigners have complained about the police response to the Fortnum and Masons occupation.

By Ian Dunt

A collection of charities and trade unions have come to the defence of UK Uncut, after the organisation found itself in the firing line for violence at Saturday's anti-cuts protest.

UK Uncut activists, who often occupy High Street shops they accuse of avoiding tax, were arrested en masse after an action in Fortnum and Masons at the weekend.

Many campaigners feel the group, which is non-violent and separate to the 'black bloc' anarchists causing much of the property damage, has been unfairly victimised in the wake of the march.


Yesterday, David Cameron rounded on MPs who signed an early day motion (EDM) backing the group, saying it refused to condemn the violence at the march.

"I think that it is important for people to understand that UK Uncut refused to condemn this violence and opposition members should remove their names from the early-day motion," David Cameron said.

Today, a wide coalition of charities, pressure groups and unions issued a statement saying the government's response to Saturday's events threatened to belittle their commitment to free speech.

"[This does not] represent the sort of consistent approach to freedom of protest which the government led us to believe they supported on entering office," the statement reads.

UK Uncut activists inside Fortnum and Masons have complained that they were lied to by police, who told them they would not be interrogated while leaving.

At a Metropolitan police meeting today, it was said that the officer who communicated that deal to activists was "sub-bronze" level and was not in possession of all the facts.

"[Activists] were treated in a political and deceptive manner by the police which sends an ominous message about the right to protest," the statement reads.

"It would appear activists were misled by the police about not being arrested when asked to leave the Fortnum and Mason building, after which they were held for a significant length of time, their clothing was confiscated and they have been denied the right to protest in the near future.

"This situation has now been seized on by the media and politicians to further threaten the right to protest. UK Uncut activists have been blamed for damage they did not cause and this story has become a substitute for discussion of the real issues raised by UK Uncut and the TUC march in general."

The statement was signed by John Hilary of War on Want, Neal Lawson of Compass, Mark Serwotka of the PCS union, Len McCluskey of Unite, Paul Kenny of the GMB, Jeremy Dear of the NUJ, Liz Nelson of the Tax Justice Network, Nick Dearden of the Jubilee Debt Campaign and Andy Egan of People & Planet.

The statement in support of UK Uncut in full

Protest has been a means for progressive change throughout human history - and it continues to play that role across the world today. Through protest, people have won and defended their rights to a decent standard of living as well as control over their lives and the societies in which they live.

It should come as no surprise that in a world of vast and growing inequalities in wealth and power, protest is growing in this country as in many other parts of the world. Protest is the legitimate right of everyone - and we believe it is right that people are protesting against some of the richest in the world failing to pay their taxes while others suffer serious and increasing levels of poverty and deprivation.

UK Uncut have played a significant part in changing the terms of debate around economic policy in the UK and have been praised by politicians and the media for doing so. Indeed UK Uncut played a key role in ensuring that more people were at the march on Saturday than otherwise would have been. At all times they acted in a way which complemented and supported the TUC march.

However, in taking the type of peaceful action which UK Uncut routinely undertake on Saturday, targeting Fortnum and Mason on this occasion, they were treated in a political and deceptive manner by the police which sends an ominous message about the right to protest. It would appear activists were misled by the police about not being arrested when asked to leave the Fortnum and Mason building, after which they were held for a significant length of time, their clothing was confiscated and they have been denied the right to protest in the near future.

This situation has now been seized on by the media and politicians to further threaten the right to protest. UK Uncut activists have been blamed for damage they did not cause and this story has become a substitute for discussion of the real issues raised by UK Uncut and the TUC march in general.

This does not represent a consistent approach to policing legitimate protest. Neither does it represent the sort of consistent approach to freedom of protest which the Government led us to believe they supported on entering office.

We support the right to protest for a fairer and more equal world. As part of this, we condemn any politically motivated policing which provokes, intimidates or criminalises protestors. We will continue to support UK Uncut, alongside thousands of others, until tax justice is secured so the poorest do not have to pay the price of a financial crisis caused by the richest.

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