Strikes Can Boost Tax Resistance Campaigns

Tax resistance movements have often coordinated with labor strikes or business shut-downs as a way of further restricting government resources, demonstrating solidarity, and freeing up the time of resisters to engage in more campaign-oriented activities. In some cases, these strikes are themselves a form of tax resistance — reducing the income or sales tax base by simply reducing the amount of income earned or sales made. Here are several examples:

Labor strikes

  • In Germany, in , “A movement for a general refusal to pay taxes, originating in Württemberg, spread rapidly to other towns, principally Stuttgart, which was without gas, electricity and water for several days. The strike began in the Daimler motor works in Württemberg, where the workers refused to allow the deduction of the legal tax of ten per cent from their weekly wages…”
  • A tax strike in aimed at the Hugo Chavez regime in Venezuela was accompanied by a multi-week labor strike that “bled the Chavez’s government’s economic lifeline, costing it millions of dollars a day.”
  • Prisoner slave laborers in the American state of Georgia went on strike in , refusing to work for the profit of the prison system.
  • In Savannah, Georgia, in , the city tried to impose a $10 tax on “stevedores and other laborers on the wharves,” which they refused to pay. The city then locked them out of the wharves.

    This, of course, seriously interfered with the shipping interests of the city, and the Council, finding that the laborers were not at all disposed to yield, and that meanwhile the “strike” was damaging the business community to the amount of thousands of dollars, and was driving all the vessels from this to other ports, met and reduced the tax to $3. This, however, only tended to increase the feelings of the laborers, who had resolved not to pay any tax whatever, deeming it unjust, unconstitutional and oppressive to tax unskilled labor, and they determined that none of their number should work, whether they paid the tax or not.

  • During the recent Household Tax agitation in Ireland, the Civil and Public Service Union threatened to strike if the government tried to deduct the tax from the paychecks of resisting union members.
  • Ship stokers in France went on strike when the government tried to tax their incidental benefits like meals as income in . The standoff kept the largest French trans-Atlantic ship stranded in port until the stokers’ employer agreed to pay the extra tax on their behalf.
  • In Birmingham, Alabama, in :

    The plant of… [a] Paint company at North Birmingham, employing 200 men, closed down because a deputy tax collector served garnishment on five employees for the non-payment of poll tax. Many of the men quit work causing the plant to shut down. … The men persist in their refusal because they claim the tax is an unjust one and not constitutional. The citizens all side with the strikers.

Hartals and business strikes

  • When Argentina tried to increase taxes in the midst of a drought in , farmers there went on strike for a week and set up highway roadblocks.
  • American farmer Bob Williams, disgusted at the U.S. military budget, decided in to henceforth donate all of his produce to charity rather than sell it for taxable income.
  • For a week in , a strike spread amongst the vendors in Tehran’s bazaar until hardly any were open for business. They were protesting a new VAT that would have applied to them. Apparently this was a nonviolent resistance tactic that bazaar merchants used successfully before the Iranian revolution, but this was the first time they’d done it since.
  • 20,000 lawyers in Delhi went on strike in , “paralyzing the lower courts,” when India tried to extend its sales tax to cover legal services.
  • In in Benares, the British imperial government tried to impose a house tax. The residents responded with a hartal, or general strike: “the shops were closed, every kind of occupation was abandoned… a solemn engagement was taken by all the inhabitants to carry on no manner of work or business until the tax was repealed. Everything was at a stand: the dead bodies were cast unceremoniously into the river, because there were none to perform the obsequial rites; and the very thieves refrained from the exercise of their vocation…”
  • Hartals and strikes, sometimes of specific industries and other times general strikes, were also frequently used in the later Indian independence movement led by Gandhi, sometimes in coordination with tax resistance campaigns such as the salt raids. During the Bardoli satyagraha, for example, shopkeepers frequently shut down their operations whenever officials came to town, and hartals sometimes broke out spontaneously on other occasions. Gandhi also led a strike of Indian miners in South Africa in that was directed against a poll tax on Indian immigrants, a strike in which hundreds were arrested, and which eventually drew in strikers from “harbour, corporation, and railway employees, as well as the drivers, cooks, waiters, and messengers.” That campaign was successful at forcing the government to rescind the tax.
  • When the tax inspector called at St. Cere during the Poujadist tax strikes: “The tax inspector rapped on steel curtain after steel curtain, demanding to be let in to see the books. Nowhere did he get an answer. When they found that even the bistros were locked, the hapless inspector and his guards gave up their mission and beat a humble retreat…”
  • During the first intifada in Palestine, the Unified National Command responded to a crackdown on the tax strikers of Beit Sahour by calling “an unprecedented five day in six general strike,” while “[s]torekeepers in the town launched a commercial strike that lasted three months…” The Israeli practice of seizing equipment, supplies, and goods from businesses that refused to remit taxes also had the effect of putting those businesses into a state of strike whether or not that was their intention.
  • In , in support of Palestinian doctors who were refusing to pay an Israeli income tax, shopkeepers in Gaza City launched multiple two-day strikes.
  • In , Greek kiosk owners held a one-day strike to protest an increase in tobacco taxes.
  • In the Dutch West Indies in , “[m]erchants, as a token of their approval of [a] doctor’s refusal to pay the tax,” (the government was attempting to auction off his goods that day) “closed their places of business during the afternoon.”
  • In the waning days of the rule of the Gyanendra monarchy in Nepal in , people stopped paying taxes and utility bills, and accompanied this with a general strike.
  • In , cashew traders in Guinea Bissau went on strike: “We cashew exporters have decided to boycott the current marketing season to protest the payment of a 50 CFA franc ($0.11) per kilogram export tax,” said the head of the exporter’s association.
  • In sympathy with the tax protests in Turkey in , there were often business strikes:

    …all shops and businesses [in Kastamonu] remained closed during the day…

    …merchants [in Erzurum] closed their shops in solidarity… shops were closed again…

    Erzurum’s example of closing shops… [was followed] at Hasankale…

  • In the Ruhr, during the French/Belgian occupation of , businesses shut down rather than pay reparation taxes:

    The owners of the German coal mines and foundries in the Ruhr are determined not to pay the 10 per cent. export tax imposed on coal by the French… The owners will refuse to export an ounce of coal or coke. They will dump the supplies in the yards, and are prepared for a long seige.

    This was accompanied by a large-scale labor strike, which the German government supported by directly financially supporting the individual strikers.

Consumer strikes

  • In Cairo in , a boatload of cruise ship passengers refused to disembark because of a landing tax they would be forced to pay. This so upset the tourist-dependent shopkeepers that they rioted and forced the tax officials to waive the tax.
  • In Melbourne, Australia, in “[b]etween 500 and 600 young men refused to pay the amusement tax at the Stadium last night to witness a boxing match between Edwards and Palmer. They were patrons of the lower-priced seats. The manager of the Stadium argued with the spokesmen for the crowd for some time, but neither side would yield, and the result was that the attendance was much smaller than usual.”
  • In the U.S., school districts often get government funding based on how many students are attending on certain “count days.” One parent decided to use this as leverage, saying she would keep her children home from school on count days, and thereby deprive the district of money, to protest against poor district policies.

(I’ll cover consumer strikes of government-monopoly products in another episode of this series.)

And here’s an example of such a strike from :

Bookmakers’ Strike

Betting Tax Protest on English Racecourse

(Special to “The Miner.”)

London, . — Unprecedented scenes were witnessed at Windsor to-day, when the bookmakers in Tattersall’s ring, as a protest against the betting tax, refused to bet. A hostile crowd surrounded a bookmaker attempting to lay the odds, and he desisted.

The majority of racegoers departed after the third race. Betting was carried on in the smaller rings, but as Tattersalls provides the official starting prices on which off-course betting is based all starting-price bets were made void throughout the country.

Tattersalls bookmakers have adopted a resolution refusing to bet again tomorrow. The action has aroused much controversy, and some critics declare that their attitude is silly and wrong.

A leading bookmaker points out that the tax greatly reduced the attendance at Windsor, and there were so few punters present that he was unable to make a decent book, and consequently the risks of heavy losses were too great. Other Bookmakers, however, fear that the Government will introduce the totalisators [automated odds-calculators] if the layers of odds persist in not wagering.