On Saturday 19th February, the Big Society Bail-In will be targeting branches of Barclays bank in Central London, turning them into libraries for the day. We’ll be having poetry readings, story time (like the story of Bob, the fat cat CEO of Barclays who is getting an £8m bonus this year on top of his £1.35m salary) and educating people on the actions of the banks and the ways in which they can and should contribute more to repairing the damage caused by their negligence and greed.
So bring a good book, signs, banners and flyers, balloons, cakes and sweeties, a loud voice and as many people as possible. Make yourself heard, engage with the public, stay safe and have fun.
The meeting place is the middle of Soho Square, just off Oxford St. It's just round the corner from Tottenham Court Road tube station on the Central and Northern lines (or ten minutes walk from Oxford Circus or Leicester Square stations) We’ll be meeting at 11am, then moving onto a nearby branch of Barclays. Once there we’ll be turning the bank into a library, showing the government what the ‘Big Society’ really means.
(The above was written by William Morris, pioneer of Socialist thought in the UK, whose ideas many of us are trying to follow today.)
In 2007, years of irresponsible lending, rash and reckless speculation and a lack of regulation in the banking sector came to a head, causing a global financial crisis and subsequent recession that led directly to the current program of massive cuts.
Several banks were saved from collapse by the government; the National Audit Office reported that the amount of public money used to bail them out reached almost £1tn at its peak. Yet the City continues to reward itself. Last year Barclays alone paid its bankers £2.7bn in bonuses, whilst other British banks brought the total amount of bonuses to over £7.3bn. This week Barclays is to post record annual profits of more than £11bn.
Meanwhile the country is undergoing the harshest cuts to public services in generations. Local council and government department budgets have been slashed, thousands and thousands are losing their jobs, community centres and libraries are closing, VAT, university tuition fees and living costs have risen. Vital benefits such as Disability Living Allowance and the Educational Maintenance Allowance are being reduced, restricted or abolished, leaving the most vulnerable parts of society to bear the brunt of the crisis.
The government, led by a Conservative party that receives half of its funding from the City, is doing nothing to reform the problems with the banking system that created a financial crisis in the first place. By lowering corporation tax, they are not only failing to ensure that the banks pay their fair share, but are actually creating a situation where some banks will be paying less than they were before the bail outs! The Coalition say that we are all in it together and that there is no option other than to make society pay for the mistakes of a small minority determined on further enriching themselves at the expensive of the country as a whole.
But there are alternatives. A one-off 50% levy on bonuses over £25,000 last year raised over £2bn for the treasury, yet the government has no plans to repeat this. A ‘Robin Hood’ tax of approximately 0.05% on international transactions would raise billions and discourage the kind of excessive speculation and risk-taking that led to the recent crisis and subsequent recession. Without proper reform and regulation of the banking sector nothing will change, lessons will not have been learnt and this will all happen again.
What the banks are doing may be legal, but that does not make it moral. This is not right, it is not fair and we will not stand for it.