Responding to Public Cutbacks: UK-Uncut

International Organizing Protests

UK-Uncut-Vodafone-005New Orleans With every headline at every level of government talking about severe cutbacks, a loss of over 1 million American public sector jobs already, and given the depth of the Great Recession unions and others seem in the bunker and on the defensive without much of a response, perhaps there’s something worth learning across the pond? A friend recently forwarded me a note and asked if I had been following the growth and development of a new organization over there called UK-Uncut. A quick look at their website and a hard listen to a long YouTube report on one of their actions made me a fan, so it’s a pleasure the share the good news of at least one country’s effective fight back strategy:

The symbol for the outfit, appropriately, is a pair of scissors with a line across – uncut, obviously. It’s easy to explain the UK-Uncut program, which may be part of its attraction. They are tired of reading about the need for massive cuts in social and health services from the new government, and rather than whining about the government and simply pushing back agains the new right takeover at Downing Street, UK-Uncut has targeted tax dodgers both corporate and personal. On the corporate side Vodafone has been a bull’s-eye having not paid a 6 Billion pound tax bill. On the personal side a “high street” shop owner is front and center that transfers all of his wealth and checks to his wife’s tax free offshore account.

Who are they? How are they organized? How do you become a member? These are old school questions that an old school organizer would naturally ask, but here there’s a different twist, which they embrace.

Here’s how they describe their origins:

UK Uncut was born in a shop doorway.

On October 27th 2010, just one week after George Osborne announced the deepest cuts to public services since the 1920s, around 70 people ran along Oxford Street, entered Vodafone’s flagship store and sat down. We had shut down tax-dodging Vodafone’s flagship store.

At that point, UK Uncut only existed as #ukuncut, a hashtag someone had dreamed up the night before the protest. As we sat in the doorway, chanting and handing leaflets to passersby, the hashtag began to trend around the UK and people began to talk about replicating our action. The idea was going viral. The seething anger about the cuts had found an outlet. Just three days later and close to thirty Vodafone stores had been closed around the country.

In less than 3 months they have gone “viral” it seems and now claim the ability to take actions against high street targets in 55 different communities around. Their Facebook number is over 11,000 “likes.” More than 14,500 folks follow them on Twitter. Trolling the site, I couldn’t find any other way to become a member than to “enroll” through social networking tools, and then go from there.

These are new formations somewhere between organizations and movements where governance is based on voting with one’s feet and staffing seems to be the sweat equity of making it all come together using internet tools.

This is not for everyone perhaps, but it is something you should definitely try at home!