VODAFONE: Tax Dodging Scum

Oct 31, 2010

Over the past four days, there’s been a series of direct actions causing the closure of Vodafone stores across the country. The resistance to the cuts and corporate power is rising.

Let’s first start with the allegation and refutations.

Vodafone bought Mannesmann, a German engineering and telecoms company in 2000. It paid €180 billion for the company. Not the cleverest of purchases, it turns out, but the business acumen (or lack thereof) of Vodafone is not the question in this story. This tale revolves around the way the rich and the corporations, no matter how stupid, can avoid tax by employing good lawyers. (that’s good in the sense of knowledge and effectiveness, not in any moral way).

For the past 9 years there’s been a dispute over how much tax Vodafone should pay on this vastly expensive folly. Those of you who are self employed or freelance reading this might want to know how you can even hold up a tax bill for 9 years, but we cannot advise on that.

Through setting up a front company in Luxembourg, the tax avoidance play started and channeling funds through the dodgy little tax haven, it seemed that Vodafone might escape the tax entirely, but HMRC officials were pursing.

Turns out that the minute the Tories gain power, Gideon Osborne cuts them a deal and lets them off with a £1.2 billion bill. Intelligence suggests they had £2.2 billion set aside to pay up anyway. Estimates reach £6 billion for the total that should have been paid.

Anyway you do the maths, Vodafone have saved a minimum of £1 billion (on their own figures) and realistically £4.8 billion on a more independently calculated total.

If one company can avoid this much money how much unpaid tax is swilling around corporate coffers at the moment? While we face the decimation of the welfare state, education, the arts, public services and everything else that’s decent about the UK. Osborne and Cameron are having a laugh.

ACTION

So after the successful action against Vodafone’s flagship store on Wednesday (27 October), a call went out mostly on twitter and facebook and at a couple of days notice around 200 people gathered at Speaker’s Corner in London.

We marched up Oxford Street, stopping the traffic and turning the heads of shoppers.
First Store was shut down in seconds. obviously forewarned, there was a printed notice stuck to the door “We had had to close this store temporarily, please visit our website”. Nice!

Leaving 30 or so people blockading that one, we took the second the same flagship store as the Wednesday protest. This one came equipped with hired muscle who were very intent on keeping us back from the store (which had it’s shutters down already) for about half an hour before they went to the pub. Sorted!

Again, we left a posse to blockade and went on to the third shop on the street. I was wondering why a company needs three identical shops on one road, buy hey, that’s capitalism, and because other societies don’t offer the choice and diversity of capitalism, do they?

Back to the plot, the third shop simpered to a pathetic closed state with the self same notice stuck to the door, with managers sitting drinking tea inside while the staff cleaned the floors (they’re not in that together either).

A Bicycle blockade settled down for that one, as we went on with a thirst for closed mobile phone shops raging in our heads. Tottenham Court Road – Shut! Long Acre – Shut! It became all too easy, we turned to go back to Oxford Street to see how things were getting on at the original targets.

At the time of writing, I’ve worked out at least 22 stores were closed around the country: Central London (x5), Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester, Liverpool (x2), York, Leicester, Oxford (x2), Brighton (x2), Worthing, Hastings, Weymouth, Bristol (x2) and Brixton (although we’ve not seen confirmation from Weymouth – anyone?)

But this protest wasn’t purely about a bunch of ne’er-do-wells against a mobile phone company. It was an action with an audience. Given that the tax swindle was reported in Private Eye, in a column called “In the Back” (established around the writings of the much missed Paul Foot, but the title of the column tells you where in the magazine you’ll find it). Private Eye has a circulate somewhere around the 200,000 mark, so we’re not talking common knowledge here.

The protests have put the question of corporate tax dodging from seemingly ‘respectable’ companies like Vodafone into the public spotlight. The shoppers and passers by were the immediate audience for this action, and in a huge number of cases their reactions were brilliant – indignation at the behaviour of the corporation and support for what we were doing.

Now the story is hitting all the papers, the TV and Radio news. It’s on Facebook and Twitter, but needs to be spread about far more widely (you can do this right now).

It is a practical demonstration of the alternative to cuts. It is living proof that there is nothing inevitable about Gideon Osborne and D Cameron’s new world. It is the beginning of a new, imaginative and intelligent resistance. It is proof that we’re not all in this together. It is what the tories don’t want you to do. It is the re-awakening of anti-capitalism. It is time you came on board.


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