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Radical political analysis, commentary and discussion in Wales
Dadansoddiad a thrafodaeth radicalaidd o wleidyddiaeth yng Nghymru
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UK Uncut take action in Cardiff

In what was called the ‘emergency operation’, actions took place across the UK on Saturday 28th May, in protest at government cuts to the National Health Service. UK Uncut carried out 41 actions against banks and tax avoiders, some of which took the form of occupations.

In Cardiff the target was Topshop, the clothing store owned by retail giant the Arcadia Group, headed by Sir Philip Green, who has avoided the payment of millions of pounds of taxes. Following an anti-austerity rally dubbed "Busk against the Cuts" around 50 people simply walked down the main shopping street and straight past the shop's security guards, who were clearly overwhelmed by the number of protesters walking through the door. They then occupied the store for an hour, forcing it to close for at least half of that time.

It seemed to be the chants of the protesters that bothered Topshop the most. One of the more amusing aspects of the occupation was the rather pathetic attempt to drown out the chants by cranking up their own, awful ‘background’ music to ear splitting levels. In the end even the cops were begging them to turn it down. .

After half an hour, the Topshop decided they needed to take other action to stop their customers hearing too much about their tax swindling activities, and closed the shop. By this time a slightly smaller group of occupiers had strategically positioned themselves just feet from the main door, so even with the store closed the supporting crowd, and waiting TV news team, had a good view of the action. As the occupation entered into its second hour, the activists decided to call it a day and emerged to the waiting cameras.

Happily, there were no arrests. Legal geeks may have thought it a little odd that the police didn’t try to make arrests for aggravated trespass, an ‘offence’ that was specifically created to criminalise this sort of protest. It’s possible Topshop had told the police they didn’t want to prosecute - a little concerned at the prospect Philip Green’s tax misdemeanours being raised in a public court, perhaps.

A South Wales police inspector did make some legally dodgy threats to arrest for breach of the peace, but the presence of legal observers in the store seems to have dissuaded her. She was later overheard to moan that she “can’t do anything because of the bloody legal observers”. Occupiers were, however, individually photographed by both police "for the intelligence log".

Some people will criticise UK uncut for taking action that can put them the wrong side of the law. But this sort of direct action is a powerful beast, and one of the few ways in which ordinary people can have a direct affect on the truly criminal activities of the very rich. Philip Green is not worried by governments or the courts - he has highly paid legal advisors, tax experts and lobbyists to deal with that. But direct action like that organised by UK uncut has undoubtedly hurt him. He’s lost trade and had to deal with a badly damaged public image.

It isn’t just about taxes. UK Uncut focuses public attention on the real villains of the piece – those who get extraordinarily rich by taking advantage of the work and hardship of others – and sets out to take them on. That has to be a good thing.

The activists who sat in Topshop on Saturday deserve our respect. It isn’t easy to put yourself in a position that could lead to your arrest. More than respect, they need support. It would be good to see twice as many occupiers in the tax avoiding target next time round.