THE UK UNCUT campaign, supported by the GMB and PCS among others last weekend targeted outlets of the coffee shop chain Starbucks over its failure to pay proper taxes and its recent outrageous cuts to its workers’ terms and conditions of employment.
The chain is among several giant multinational companies that have used loopholes in the law to avoid paying any corporation tax in Britain for several years.
Last week the public campaign against it saw it starting to lose customers and money and Starbucks was shamed into agreeing to pay £20 million in back tax over two years.
But the campaigners say it is not nearly enough and that companies like this should not be left to chose for themselves if and how much tax they will pay. Starbucks, until a few days ago had paid just £8.6 million in tax in Britain over the past 13 years on sales of £3.1 billion.
Then the company further outraged campaigners by seeking to compensate itself by raiding the pockets of its already low-paid workers.
Last week the 7,000 Starbucks baristas were told to sign revised employment terms that include the removal of paid 30-minute lunch breaks.
Starbucks is cutting paid lunch breaks, sick leave and maternity benefits for thousands of British workers, sparking fresh anger over its business practices.
On the day the House of Commons' public accounts committee branded the US coffee chain's tax avoidance practices "immoral", baristas arriving for work were told to sign revised employment terms, which include the removal of paid 30-minute lunch breaks and paid sick leave for the first day of illness. Some will also see pay increases frozen.
Last Saturday UK Uncut protesters targeted scores of Starbucks coffee shops across Britain, briefly disrupting business on one of the chain's busiest trading days.
Organisers from UK Uncut claimed to have targeted more than 40 shops – including Starbucks in Liverpool, Cardiff, Bristol and Shrewsbury – on the campaign group's biggest day of action to date.
A handful of stores, including two in London's busy West End shopping district, were briefly closed down around noon yesterday, and police threatened to arrest sit-in protesters for aggravated trespass.
At a flagship store just off Regent Street's busy shopping parades, about 40 activists and six children had joined the action.
The protest then moved to Vigo Street, another side road off Regent Street, where about 60 campaigners gathered among customers sipping lattes and herbal tea, chanting: "If you don't pay your taxes, we'll shut you down."
Zara Martin, 33, a protester who was handing out leaflets in the branch, said: "Everyone is being really quite cheerful and the response from passers-by is great, they are all smiley and interested in what we are doing. It's very encouraging.
"Even if people don't agree, it's important that we're having the debate. I think the £20 million over two years is a bit rubbish. It's like, wow thanks Starbucks, but actually why don't you just pay your full tax like everyone else has to?"
Customer Paula McCaully, 42, with her partner Ian, said: "I was hoping for a coffee, but [the protesters] are right, of course, and we will boycott and get our coffee somewhere else, I think. Good for them, coming out on a cold day to stand up for what they believe in."
On 4th December GMB presented a corporate ASBO to Starbuck over the company’s failure to pay its fair share of taxes and failure to pay a living wage to its 8,500 employees in 750 stores across Britain.
GMB has members in Starbuck stores but the company does not recognise any trade union nor is there any collective bargaining on pay and conditions. Starbuck unilaterally decide what the rates of pay and terms and conditions are for their staff and reserve the right to make changes with no consultation with their staff.
PCS, the union that represents tax workers, supported the UK Uncut protests. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “We fully support this weekend’s action which, along with previous campaigns by UK Uncut and others, will highlight the fact that if large companies like Starbucks paid their fair share it would change the debate about public spending overnight.”