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The Uncut Movement Comes to Canada

It’s up to us to defend our social services

by Anne Marshall

If you haven’t yet heard of Canada Uncut, you’re not alone. A few Fridays ago I was logged onto Facebook, as is my custom these days upon waking at two-year-old-o’clock. As my toddler trashed his breakfast, I trawled through a typical IV drip of amusing YouTube videos, friends’ blog entries, and meditations on what exactly might occur if certain friends were denied their morning coffees. Then I noticed that someone had added me to the group ‘Canada Uncut’.

Rolling my eyes, I clicked on the notification, intending to remove myself from the group. I assumed that one of my friends added me so that I could participate in yet another online mommy community debate. 

The group description quickly disabused me of that notion, though, and directed me to “How to Build a Progressive Tea Party”, an inspiring and highly readable account of the impressive rise of the UK Uncut anti-austerity movement.

The founding of UK Uncut followed British Finance Minister George Osborne’s announcement of the deepest budgetary cuts to public services in more than eight decades. While I had heard a little bit about protests sweeping the UK last fall, I knew little of the new and exciting type of activism thats taken to the High Streets.

On October 27, 2010, in London, approximately seventy people entered a mobile phone shop Oxford Street, sat down, and effectively closed the doors of tax-dodging billionaire Philip Green’s flagship Vodafone store.

For all intents and purposes, the group was nothing more than a Twitter hashtag (#ukuncut), invented the night before by a group of young people who decided they were tired of talking about their feelings of disenfranchisement at the hands of big business and government, and resolved to take action.

As dozens occupied the shop doorway, chanting and handing leaflets to passers-by, that hashtag began to trend around the UK, and people began to talk about replicating the action. National anger over the budget cuts helped take the idea viral. People had found an accessible and worthy target for their frustration. Within seventy-two hours, nearly thirty Vodafone outlets around the country had been shut down.

Launched in this country within hours of The Nation article hitting the web, Canada Uncut aims to take action against the government’s short sighted and unnecessary cuts to public services across the country. It is anticipated that, even more drastically than in previous years, the funding cuts in this year’s budget will not only harm our most vulnerable citizens, but also increase financial stress and impact quality of life for the vast majority of Canadians.

Harper intends to trim billions of dollars in spending on government programs that touch virtually every aspect of Canadian life. From scientific and medical research to women’s initiatives, from environmental protection to athletic and arts programs, we can expect to see huge reductions or total eliminations of federal funding in a manner more brutal than ever before.

And while the government assures us that areas such as health care and education will remain untouched, that is simply because at this point, there are few if any cuts left to make.

Meanwhile, Conservatives are pushing through a series of corporate tax breaks that will bring our corporate tax rate---already the lowest in the G7---to a shocking 15 per cent by the end of 2013. Extending such generosity towards these corporations---while at the same time showing no leniency towards the ordinary taxpayer---is justified by the idea that tax cuts create jobs. Yet many experts argue that the opposite is true.

These companies profit not only from our ridiculously low tax rates, but from an arcane and complex system that allows “creative international tax planners” to funnel income to tax havens, and ensure that any taxes that are collected are often returned in the form of credit. The jobs created by tax cuts are not to be found here in Canada, and unemployment figures continue to rise.  If we pay our taxes, why don’t corporations? If they profit here, shouldn't they pay more than just a fraction of what the average Canadian citizen pays?

The time has come to show our government---and the companies who have enriched their coffers by billions at the expense of ordinary Canadians---that when they push us, we can and will push back. Join Canada Uncut, and together, let's make corporate tax abusers pay.

Canada Uncut is a horizontal movement. There are no leaders, no pecking order and no centralized protests. Over the last few weeks, our discussions, tweets, retweets, Skype calls and emails have led to some necessary delegation of the workload, but it’s been 100 per cent voluntary.

We try to conduct our communications democratically and diplomatically---we are, after all, Canadian. So far our activities have been as loosely organized and unpredictable as one might expect from a group of people who, until a few weeks ago, had no connection whatsoever.

Our first action---a touching tribute by the Billionaires of Halifax to the generous taxpayers who stepped in to help them in their time of need---took place within days of our inception. But I think it’s safe to say that the only thing we’re all looking forward to in the forthcoming budget is the fact that we will soon know for sure what we are up against in this latest round of cuts.

Once the budget is tabled, you should expect to hear a lot more from us. We’re mobilizing as I write this, and we’d love it if you joined the fight. While taking on a foe as formidable as the Canadian corporate tax system might seem daunting, as a friend recently pointed out, “Once you get the numbers, that's when it doesn't matter anymore.”

(Full disclosure: that quote was lifted from an online thread about standing up to zombies. I think it works just as well here.)

Our Facebook page has grown to a respectable 400+ “Likes” in less than a fortnight, and our smaller “working group” of members, committed to getting this movement off the ground in Canada, comprises more than 140 individuals who have been reading, breathing, eating and sleeping Uncut for the bulk of the last two weeks.

We’re lucky to count amongst us not only activists with a wide array of experience and opinions, but relative newcomers to protest movements whose only prior acts of dissent may have been signing an online petition.

In Britain and the US, Uncut participants span every age group, and are drawn from nearly every segment of society, from teenagers to pensioners, and all stops in between.

The same is true of Canada Uncut. We have high school graduates discussing the finer points of arcane tax laws with doctors of philosophy. Labour union members and Internet entrepreneurs are trading ideas about the relative merits of ironic bake sales for the rich versus pirate musical numbers.

English teachers and politicians are tweeting about flash raids. Conservatives and radicals alike have weighed in on the content of our leaflets. This is not about the value of any one particular ideology versus another.

Instead, Uncut is a non-partisan effort that seeks to dismantle a system of favouring commerce over community---a system that has been far too entrenched in Canadian tax policy to be blamed on any one political party. While we expect government to take notice whenever we complain, this time we’re changing the venue.

Explore our website, “Like” our Facebook page, follow us on Twitter, and remember to visit UK Uncut  or one of the many sister groups that are forming in countries around the world. In the last few days Australia and Ireland have joined the growing list of nations rallying for change.

US Uncut, launched just days before of our own effort, already boasts close to 13,000 Facebook subscribers as of this writing, and has pulled off over 50 successful actions in solidarity with Wisconsin’s union protests.  If you want action in your town or city, you'll have to take it on yourself. But it is possible. People in the UK and the US, people just like you and me, have proven that it is possible to take on governments and corporations.

Join us. I’ll see you out there! (X)

Anne Marshall is a writer, teacher, DJ, mother, and activist. She spends her days with a toddler not far from Toronto, conspiring to save the world one mix tape at a time.

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