Why the Uncut Movement Matters

Shannon Ikebe

April 15 is ingrained in American consciousness as Tax Day, a day which cannot help but bear a political meaning. It was on April 15 two years ago that the Tea Party staged its first widespread demonstrations, which began to unleash the far-right nightmare that corporate Democrats have indulged since then. But as the far right has taken power in many states and partly in Washington, Tax Day 2011 bears a promise of a real change: US Uncut. US Uncut is a genuinely grassroots movement that struggles against austerity budgets by demanding tax payment from corporate and millionaire tax avoiders, and the group has organized nationwide demonstrations for April 15 (although income taxes are actually due on April 18 this year). If activist energy and resources are channeled and concentrated in US Uncut, it could potentially be a force that finally improves American political dynamics.

The Uncut movement was born in Britain just a few months ago. David Cameron’s relentless austerity agenda attempts to dismantle the welfare state through the deepest cuts to public services since the 1920s in the name of fiscal discipline in tough economic times. A Tory minister boasted, “We are making cuts that Thatcher could only have dreamt of.” Universities were a big casualty of the austerity agenda, and the massive student protests against threefold university tuition increase garnered widespread attention and ignited the spirit of resistance. But UK Uncut was formed to address the root cause of the entire austerity paradigm: lack of sufficient tax revenues from corporations and the rich. The grassroots British movement staged creative protests in front of popular stores of tax-avoiding companies and banks, such as Vodafone, Tesco supermarket, Topshop, Lloyds and Barclays banks.

American progressives can often only witness the vibrant leftist social movements in Europe with envy; there is no such need now, because US Uncut is here. The group has demonstrated in front of branches of Bank of America, which paid precisely zero dollars in federal income taxes despite having received $45 billion of the bailout money from taxpayers. This April 15, US Uncut is organizing a nationwide Day of Action with nearly 100 actions to demand a radical yet common-sense alternative to the austerity consensus: In order to reduce the deficit, corporations should pay taxes that they are supposed to pay. The notion that Bank of America should pay their taxes is more progressive and also much more popular than the Democratic Party. Although far-right propaganda has managed to discredit “liberal” or “progressive” politics in the eyes of many Americans, it is far more difficult to spread the notion of legitimizing tax avoidance.

The real significance of the Uncut movement is that it addresses the fundamental issues of any economic struggle. Uncut unites all groups that are hit hard by the right-wing austerity agenda, rather than dividing them into different interest groups, desperately competing against each other for a piece of the fast-shrinking pie. Uncut is a movement that can be broad and paradigm-shifting at the same time. Public-sector unions; advocates for women’s health, children or public transportation; and the growing number of unemployed whose crucial income sources are rendered vulnerable can unite to challenge the fundamental basis of austerity politics: the bipartisan consensus that spending cuts are our only option right now. The particularly encouraging development of the Uncut movement can be seen in Washington state, where the unions organized a large protest in Olympia against the austerity budget proposed by the Democratic governor with the Democratic-controlled legislature. Only by attacking the Democrats’ unquestioning acceptance of the austerity paradigm can we begin to envision a new kind of politics. If the progressive mobilization against austerity Democrats (that is, most of them) can spread and persist, it could potentially be of even greater significance than the struggles in Wisconsin that ignited the fire of progressive populism, but were triggered by the far-right Republican governor.

What is at stake is a fundamental issue. Is the current capitalist crisis going to further the assault on the modicum of a welfare state that’s still left, or is the neoliberal direction finally to be reversed? Fiscal policy might be dry and boring, but it is at the heart of real struggles upon which our very future depends. We can start by wrestling the Tax Day away from far-right libertarians, through the Uncut movement as a global, decentralized network of unions, the unemployed, community activists and students who are facing a common fate.