Monday, 18 January 2010

Protesting bank bonuses and remembering poll tax

Today, musician and political activist Billy Bragg has announced that he will withhold his taxes from the treasury unless something is done to curb excessive bank bonuses.

As he explains in the Guardian;
some of us will have recently received a reminder to pay our tax online by the end of the month. I came across mine the day after seeing RBS executive director Stephen Hester smirk as he told a commons select committee that, rather than explain to the public that he was about to pay his staff an estimated £1.5bn in bonuses next month, he'd avoid the ensuing rancour by sloping off on holiday for a long while.

Never mind that RBS posted the worst corporate losses in British financial history last year. He's had his empty coffers replenished with taxpayers' money and now he's going to fill his boots. Watching Hester's "let them eat cake" moment on TV, I felt both outraged and at the same time powerless.

Outraged because we'd spent the week being softened up for painful public service cuts by both the government and opposition and powerless because I knew that neither party has the will to do anything about excessive bonus culture.

Googling RBS, I found that, as part of the loan they took from the government, the chancellor has the right to veto the bank's bonus payments. That loan made us all shareholders in RBS. By rights, that veto belongs to us. So I wrote to Alistair Darling telling him that I would be withholding my taxes on 31 January unless he used our veto to limit the RBS bonuses.
The full text of his letter to the Chancellor can be found here. And you can support Bragg's stance by joining the NoBonus4RBS Facebook group and "by simply writing a letter to the Chancellor informing him of your decision to withhold your tax payment until he acts on bonuses."

It is unlikely, of course, that Alastair Darling or Gordon Brown will react by using their veto in favour of the British public. The government, despite all pretences towards democracy, is one which serves the rich and powerful and is prepared to wage class war against the poor in order to maximise profit and power. However, as Bragg writes, "if nothing else, we may discover if people in this country care more about banker's bonuses than they do about who will be the Xmas No1."

With a general election looming and the promise that voting will not do anything to better our situation, it may also provide a starting point to connect with people who are angry about the current state of affairs but have no clue what to do about it. As Ian Bone points out, "March 31st this year marks the 20th anniversary of the glorious POLL TAX RIOT." Back then, combined with a mass non-payment campaign, the riots sounded a death-knell for the hated community charge and contributed to the downfall of Margaret Thatcher. And this after the woman had deccimated the union movement along with the working class communities it represented.

The twentieth anniversary of the poll tax uprising should be duly remembered. The best way to do this is by combining Bragg's letters of protest with mass direct action.