1 April 2011

The Fortnum and Mason Affair

The British state is doing all it can to shut down the popular UNCUT movement

Uncut is a grass roots activist organisation, consisting mainly of the educated young. The movement is opposed to tax avoidance by retailers and other companies, particularly at a time when sadistic spending cuts are being inflicted on the services required by ordinary working people. Uncut tactics involve non-violent direct action without vandalism, typically noisy sit-down protests in the department stores owned by tax avoiding companies.

On 26 March 2011, in an action separate from the TUC sponsored demonstration, Uncut staged a sitdown protest in London’s upmarket Fortnum and Mason department store. The facts of what happened are not disputed.

The police arrived and informed the protesters that they could leave unmolested. Once outside every protester – in excess of one hundred persons – was arrested. The young people were distributed to police stations around London and held overnight. Their mobile phones and clothes were confiscated and they were charged with the offence of aggravated trespass and banned from entering the centre of London. Charges of criminal damage were imposed and then, at least for most of them, dropped. Whether they are later found guilty of a criminal offence or not, their names will entered on the police lists of "domestic extremists" for life.

The decision to make a mass arrest and then detain Uncut activists overnight – a wholly disproportionate action given the minor nature of the offence - was a political one. By contrast, far fewer anarchist vandals were arrested. Quite clearly, the police wished to intimidate young people from engaging in effective peaceful protest against tax avoidance, rather than arrest anarchists engaged in property damage.

In their propaganda after the event the government and police sought to associate the Uncut activists with anarchist hooliganism and violence. Yet among the left and the informed, nobody believes that. The barefaced lying by the police to the activists has also further undermined the credibility of the police both in the eyes of Uncut and the public.

Uncut alone is no substitute for organised political opposition, but in terms of raising consciousness and involving people in constructive protest action, there is nothing better in Britain today. Socialists should support it with their voices, money and bodies.


Two views are circulating on the internet about the police prioritising Uncut and not the Black Bloc anarchists in the London protests of 26 March 2011.

One view holds that the police targeted the peaceful Uncut activists out of frustration because they were unable to arrest the anarchists. The other view maintains that the anarchists, who are at least in part infiltrated by police agents, were not stopped in their street rampage in order to bolster public support for harder policing. The arrest of the Uncut activists was then undertaken to associate them in the public mind with the anarchists.

I do not know which view is correct. However whichever alternative is the case, the police are shown to be acting improperly.

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