By John Millington
Multi-million pound transnational Starbucks became the target of tax justice campaigners today when UKuncut activists occupied several branches in the hope of turning them into women’s refuge centres.
High profile targets included the Starbucks branch at Regent’s street where activists occupied the popular coffee house forcing it to shut its doors.
On being quickly removed by police, protesters barricaded the front entrance holding placards in a sit down protest.
The peaceful action involved anti Starbucks chants but in the main anger was vented at the government who protesters say have cut women’s services to reduce the deficit but not collected billions of pounds worth of tax from companies like Starbucks.
Campaigners say £5.6m has been cut from violence against women services, while tax justice campaigners put tax dodging by big business including companies such as Starbucks at over £32bn every year.
On top of rape crisis centre closures, a total of £14.9 billion worth of cuts per year have been made to benefits, tax credits, pay and pensions, with a massive 74% of this taken from women’s incomes, according to the Fawcett society.
Addressing the media and supporters outside the branch, Isabel Young, a researcher and former rape crisis volunteer accused the government of waging a “war against women.”
“If Starbucks are getting preferential treatment from our government and can get away without paying the millions of pounds of tax they owe which the economy desperately needs then why on earth are organisations that which provide services more useful than coffee and pastries being punished?” she said.
“The values of empowerment active listening for women to express their feelings around sexual violence, it is a vital branch of support for survivors.”
She spoke of how a Brighton refuge for women was only saved by a local campaign when the council was forced to find funding to keep it open.
“It has been proven that domestic violence gets worse in an economic crisis, not peoples need for caffeine,” she said.
“It is time the government redirect their damaging economic policies and stop cutting vital public services, like refuges and rape crisis centres and filled the 32 billion pound tax gap.”
She concluded by challenging the Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne to “get themselves down to a refuge and speak to a survivor of domestic violence and sexual abuse and tell her to her face why the support services she relies on are not worth funding.”
Southall Black sisters campaign group spokeswoman Pragna Patel insisted people protesting were “freedom fighters.”
“We will fight for the right to have protest. We will fight for the right of equality and dignity,” she said to roars of applause.
“We believe in non violence and for those fighting against multi-national corporations.”
In a message to Starbucks workers, Ms Patel insisted their fight was not with low paid staff at the franchise.
“We want you to join us,” she said.
“We support you. We know you are paid the bare minimum. This is about tax justice and standing up to multi-nationals.”
Asked if there would be more protests, she added: “Actions like this have made Starbucks cough up 10 million already. That’s the power of the voice and the power of the people.”