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Tax justice and radical politics: how do they rhyme and combine?
za 1 feb, 2014 : 12:00 - 13:30free
The past few years we have seen a surge of tax justice campaigns in Western Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America. In part this is because of the internationalisation of the UK-based tax justice network in other parts of the world, whereby tax was either newly integrated or extended as a topic in existing groups that campaign on economic justice issues such as debt. The real (re)popularisation of tax justice as a political issue in Europe, however, started with the economic crisis: whilst austerity measures are undermining public services, large corporations avoid paying tax, so that the burden of austerity is disproportionally carried by the poor and middle-classes. UK Uncut made this an international issue with campaigns against Starbucks and Virgin, with traditional activist interventions such as sit-ins and demonstrations.
From a radical political perspective, tax justice is an uncomfortable issue: because ultimately we present the state in these campaigns as an impartial redistributor of wealth, thereby ignoring the relationship between the state and class. Some campaigns even go as far as using neo-liberal competition arguments in favour for tax justice: they argue that tax evasion and avoidance lead to an unfair playing field in which small- and medium-sized enterprises cannot compete with multinational corporations who have tax avoidance opportunities due to the large-scale nature of their business. Operating in many jurisdictions and having large sums of capital for tax advisors at their disposal, multinational companies and rich individuals use loopholes in the global regulatory system that are not open to middle-classes and the poor.
In fact, whilst the state does have redistributive functions (by collecting taxes from all citizens and subsidising public services with the revenue), it also redistributes public money to private companies (by subsidising businesses in various sectors and programmes). It further defends private interests by protecting private property and maintaining and enforcing a class-based legal system. A critical attitude towards the state and attempts to radically reform or overthrow it, depending on your political couleur, are therefore central to left-wing movements.
This workshop starts from the premise that tax justice is an important political and campaigning issue for the Left. Examples of tax justice campaigns from around the world show that tax is at the heart of economic justice as it regulates distribution of wealth. However, the workshop also wishes to explore the dilemmas that tax justice campaigns pose with regard to the position of the state, or rather, the positions of left-wing activists towards the state. The workshop will look at how other groups have campaigned on the issue, in the Philippines, Kenya, Greece and the UK. It hopes to increase our knowledge on how to frame seemingly reformist discourses/demands and use them to achieve a more radical demand for systematic change.