Sunday, December 09, 2012

Liverpool Starbucks and Poundland Targeted on Day of Action

The scene at the front of Bold Street Starbucks at Saturday lunchtime...
A large group of activists wreaked a little bit of havoc with pre-Christmas capitalist business as usual on Saturday afternoon, as they joined in with a nationwide UK Uncut action, and also targeted workfare exploiters Poundland.

The five hours of fun began at noon, with a static rally organised by Liverpool Against The Cuts, who also played a co-ordinating and publicising role in the run-up to Saturday. It took place next to the Co-operative bank on the corner of Bold Street, and like other recent demos, it seemed quite isolated from the general public milling by. A handful of speakers decried the government's austerity agenda through a megaphone, but it appeared to make little impact on busy shoppers.

After a few minutes, a group led by the Socialist Singers and the Angry Women of Liverpool made their move on the local branch of Starbucks - the multi-billion pound company which has recently been making the headlines for its ability to avoid paying tax. Police were monitoring the front Bold Street entrance, and the back door had been locked, but a small number of us managed to get inside by simply posing as customers and strolling past the cops. Once inside, the AWOL banner was unfurled. This inevitably provoked the anger of the manager and a plainclothes cop/security guard, who claimed he "didn't want to hurt" one demonstrator, but twisted her hand and wrist in opposite directions as she and comrades were bundled out of the building.

But by this time, the Socialist Singers had massed outside the front entrance, effectively blocking it, and scores more had moved from the static demo to hear them/join in, creating a 'wall of sound'. The front door was also locked, and only opened when the customers already inside wanted to leave.

The shop was closed for at least a couple of hours over the busy lunchtime period, and many caffeine seekers were turned away. Most left with no complaint once they were informed we'd closed the branch due to Starbucks' refusal to pay taxes, and the link with the austerity bearing down on us all was constantly reinforced by the many placards and banners. But one American appeared to be in denial, claiming it was "an objective fact I can get coffee in this shop", while another man announced he supported the cuts to "bad nurses and bad teachers", for which he was roundly booed and denounced as "Tory scum".

Eventually, a breakaway group moved away in knots of twos and threes, in order to hit the Liverpool One Starbucks branch half a mile down the road. There we encountered more hostility from the manager and one cop in particular, but this time the element of surprise meant that we'd got more bodies into the shop itself, therefore making it more difficult to evict us all without arrests. After much shouting, a lengthy standoff ensued, while passers-by took photos through the windows, many of which were uploaded on social networking websites.

...and the back!
Finally, the police ran out of patience, and 'good cop' was sent over to couch a threat of arrest under aggressive trespass legislation in "respect for your right to demonstrate" and acknowledgement that "you've had a really successful protest". At this point we decided to walk out together, with large numbers maintaining a picket outside, whilst others of us swapped UK Uncut for Boycott Workfare, and descended on the Williamson Square Poundland.

We have held many pickets there over the past few months, and normally the security guard merely asks us to make sure we are not blocking access as we hand out leaflets and talk to people about the workfare scheme. This time however - perhaps because his patience had run out or perhaps due to Christmas pressure - he threatened to call the police, before actually calling three other 'security' men, one of whom was a massive tracksuited guy. This individual proceeded to push one protester, throw balled-up pieces of paper at me, and make gang signs. Another threatened to meet demonstrators "down a dark alley".

The law did arrive about twenty minutes later, and as is usual they marched straight inside to consult with the store security. When they emerged, they were deaf to our complaints about the criminal acts committed by 'security', but the senior cop clearly didn't want to make any arrests either, so he merely repeated the normal security mantra of "make sure you don't block the door", having warned his junior colleague to back off and calm down. Many potential customers took our literature, and stopped for a chat.

As the clock ticked round to five, we decided to call it a day, satisfied that we had put in hours of excellent work. The afternoon had been a massive success - costing Starbucks significant amounts of money, and generating great publicity for our causes. These victories were only possible due to the coming together of many different groups and unaligned people on the radical left, which gave us the numbers necessary to make a big physical impact, and made for a fantastic atmosphere. However, we need to make more effort to communicate with the workers in the shops. In the case of Poundland and other workfare profiteers, real jobs and wages are being undermined by the scheme. And Starbucks declared war on its staff this week, as it refused to accept any cut in profits if and when it decides to pay some corporation tax.

Saturday's events provided a brief, tantalising hint of working class power, but real change will have to be based on workplace organisation.
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