A call to action – why we need Northern Ireland Uncut
This Saturday May 28th, activists will protest across the UK against the dismantling of the National Health Service, and, more broadly, against cuts to public spending, the unfairness of which I don’t have to go into here.
UK Uncut is perhaps one of the most exciting protest movements of our times. Good-humoured, imaginative, attention-grabbing and effective, it has thrust issues of corporate power and tax avoidance – and the deep inequalities that they perpetuate – into mainstream political debate.
But why has Northern Ireland largely missed out on this wave of activism so far?
After all, our Assembly has passed a £6bn cuts budget. Our universities and colleges are being cut. Belfast Health & Social Care Trust alone is cutting the equivalent of 1,755 full-time staff this year. The consociational nature of the Assembly means that parties in mandatory coalition can blame each other for cuts in individual departments. Nationalists blame the ‘British’ cuts coming from Westminster. Parties can even vote against budgets and still remain in coalition. They all attempt to elude the fact they are all culprits in this.
And while all this is going on, those most able to pay remain untouched and there is a disturbing consensus about cutting Northern Ireland’s rate of corporation tax. All but a handful of MLAs in the Assembly – and all the parties in the Executive – have pledged to cut corporation tax from the current rate of 28% down to 12.5%. Not only is the logic of doing this flawed in the extreme (as has been argued convincingly here), but it’s going to cost money – around £300m a year – which we’re giving to aid corporations when we should be aiding the most vulnerable in our society at a time when they need it most. Corporation tax cuts, slavishly supported by everyone from the DUP to Sinn Fein to Alliance as the false panacea to our economic woes, mean even more cuts to vital public services.
The opposition to corporation tax reduction in the Assembly is almost non-existent, but strangely diverse. In fact, it’s perhaps the only time ever the Greens have shared the same view as the hardline unionist TUV. In Westminster, Mark Durkan is the only NI MP to have signed Early Day Motion 1146, supporting UK Uncut.
Surely this calls for opposition outside the chamber – that is why we need Northern Ireland Uncut.
We need a movement of ordinary people to stand up to cuts and the prioritization of big business over ordinary people. It can’t be owned by any one grouping or faction, and the decentralized, good-humoured nature of UK Uncut protests can draw in people beyond the usual left political sphere. It’s very simple – we pay our taxes. Why shouldn’t corporations?
I know there has been at least one action in Belfast so far (sometime last year), but it seems to have escaped the media attention that helps the concept gather public support in other parts of the UK. Others have started – we should join them. It’s really quite simple to list an action, gather some friends and post a Facebook link.
This is not at all a criticism of all that’s been done so far, but a call to participate in some friendly competition with our friends in England, Scotland and Wales! The picture is not complete until every part of the UK has consistent, regular Uncutter actions. We must link resistance to cuts in the oft-insultar NI political sphere to what’s happening throughout the rest of the UK.
But who am I to say this to you? Nobody. Just some guy. But that’s the beauty of it. The decentralized nature of this movement means that literally anyone can do it.
So, people of Northern Ireland – get organised. I’ll see you on the high streets.