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“Do You Pay Your Taxes? Bank of America Doesn’t”

The latest from a growing international movement to make corporate tax dodgers pay … so public services don’t have to.
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US Uncut DC courtesy Chuck Collins

US Uncut protesters on Saturday, February 26, 2011 closed down the Washington, D.C. branch of Bank of America. Protesters across the country targeted Bank of America for its failure to pay taxes in 2009 and 2010.

Photo courtesy of the author.

In 2009 and 2010, according to their SEC K-10 report, filed on Friday, Bank of America paid no income taxes. Meanwhile, the federal government and many state governments, facing large budget shortfalls, are cutting services and benefits that help the poor and middle class. For many people, that just doesn’t add up.

On Saturday, many of those people took to the streets in cities across the country to protest corporate tax dodging. In more than 50 cities, those protests focused on Bank of America.

Local activists protested inside and outside of Bank of America branches, conducting teach-ins about corporate tax avoidance and theatrical “bail-ins.” They stopped passers-by to ask, “Do you pay your taxes? Bank of America doesn’t.”

In Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, protests forced the early closure of major bank branches. The San Fransico protesters presented bank tellers with fake checks, made out from Bank of America to “The United States of America, c/o Tax-Paying Citizens.”

How to Do Your Own Bain-In, video still
US Uncut: How To
Do Your Own Bail-In
Advice from UK Uncut: Bringing an Uncut protest to your town is easy.

This effort, called US Uncut, has been inspired by UK Uncut, which formed in response to drastic spending cuts—the deepest in 60 years—being proposed in Britain. Tens of thousands of English activists have targeted corporations that have paid no or very low corporate income taxes, largely thanks to elaborate use of overseas tax havens and other tax loopholes, pointing out that the cuts would be unnecessary if only the corporations would pay up.

As in England and across the Middle East, the decentralized protest movement now underway in the United States is organized largely through the Internet, including Facebook, Twitter, and the US Uncut website.

Congressional budget officials estimate that over $100 billion a year is lost because of tax loopholes. That would go a long way toward closing state deficits.

These protests are putting a spotlight on the shadowy world of overseas corporate tax havens. Many U.S. corporations shift their earnings around, reporting losses in the United States while reporting profits in tax havens like the Cayman Islands, where they pay little or no taxes.

Nicholas Shaxson, author of the forthcoming book Treasure Islands, writes that tax havens are a major mechanism through which “wealthy and powerful elites take the benefits from society without paying for them.”

Congressional budget officials estimate that over $100 billion a year is lost because of such tax loopholes. That would go a long way toward closing state deficits—according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the combined budget gaps in U.S. states is between $102 billion and $148 billion.

Wisconsin protests, photo by Peter GormanWisconsin: The First Stop in an American Uprising?

Protests against corporate tax dodging could be one of the ways that the spark of the Wisconsin workers’ rights protests could spread widely. While not every state has a reckless anti-union governor like Scott Walker or the union solidarity to push back, the whole country is facing serious budget cuts.

The U.S. movement officially started two weeks ago in Jackson, Mississippi, where 23-year old Carl Gibson, in between working three part-time jobs, organized a website and the first group. Within days, other groups were being formed in dozens of cities across the United States and Canada.

“Why has the knee-jerk reaction for our politicians been first and foremost budget cuts to critical social services? They tell us that no other options are on the table, yet cracking down on corporate tax avoidance has received little, if any attention,” said George Taghi, an organizer for the Washington, D.C., Uncut action.

What’s Next?

  • There will be another wave of protests, focusing on other tax-dodging corporations with high profiles and retail outlets. You can organize a local demonstration and coordinate it through the US Uncut web site or on Facebook.
  • The newly fledged groups are planning to make April 15, tax day, a day of national demonstrations calling attention to corporate tax dodging—and its effect on budgets.
  • Small and U.S.-rooted businesses, competing with tax dodgers on on an unlevel playing field, are fighting back, organizing their voices under the banner Business and Investors Against Tax Haven Abuse. Businesses of any size can get involved by visiting their website.

Chuck Collins auth pic


Chuck Collins wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Chuck is a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies where he directs the Program on Inequality and the Common Good.

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