Tax Resisters at Huge Suffrage Protest in Trafalgar Square

The Vote

In , there was a large women’s suffrage protest held at Trafalgar Square. The proceedings were covered in the issue of The Vote: The Organ of The Women’s Freedom League. Some excerpts:

Trafalgar Square Protest.

The protest meeting , in spite of the numerous counter-attractions offered to the public, must be chronicled as one of our successes. The resolution

That this meeting protests with indignation against the vindictive sentences passed on voteless women, and especially that on Mrs. Harvey, and demands that the Government accord equal treatment to men and women under the law and under the constitution,

was carried from each platform, and the crowd appeared entirely sympathetic.…

Mrs. [Charlotte] Despard made the first speech…

A sentence of monstrous injustice had been passed on Mrs. Harvey. She refused to pay the insurance tax. Let her point out the inequality of the sentences passed on insurance resisters.

Mrs. Harvey was sued for a count of ten weeks, amounting to 5s. 5d. To this was added costs and special costs, till it mounted to £17. For refusing to pay a license for a man-servant she was further fined £22. But a man who defaulted for thirty-one weeks and, moreover, deceived his servants into the belief that all was straight, was fined 15s. We realise, therefore, that this is vindictive. Mrs. Harvey was fined not for refusing to pay her tax but for being a rebel.

Mrs. Harvey was a woman who devoted her life to the help of others. During the dockers’ strike she had taken into her own home three of the dockers’ children and cared for them as if they had been her own. For the sake of justice — for the sake of our country’s reputation — she asked the people to help. “I ask all men — workers or not — to send a card to Mr. McKenna, demanding Mrs. Harvey’s release. Work for the time to come, when men and women shall stand together to make the world better, purer, happier and holier than that in which we are condemned to live.”

Mrs. [Anne] Cobden-Sanderson’s point was that Mrs. Harvey was worth of the vote as a human being. She had worked for the great movement of universal brotherhood. Even caddies were striking now against the Insurance Act. But the caddies would have a vote one day, and Mrs. Harvey never. She objected, naturally, to obey laws made without her consent; and if ever there was a law which touched women equally with men, and left them, in fact, in a worse position than men, that law was the Insurance Act. Resistance to taxation is no new principle. Mr. Harry de Passe, speaking next, said: “I only wish more people would protest against this insurance tax, which has been imposed against the people’s will. The sending of a good woman to prison for refusal to pay makes it clear to us that we are living under a Government of compulsion. It is this principle of compulsion that we must fight. As for those who had the vote, let them not use it for the furtherance of bureaucratic legislation. Let the privilege and monopoly everywhere be abolished, so that the people may come into their own and be delivered from the control of the expert.”

Miss Amy Hicks, M.A., who took the chair on No. 2 platform, said that Mrs. Harvey had been sent to Holloway Prison for two months for refusing to comply with the Insurance Act, and for refusing to pay the license in connection with her gardener, on the ground that taxation and representation ought to go together.

Miss Hicks then read the following message from Mr. [George] Lansbury, who was too unwell to speak at the meeting:—

“Please say that I hope every man and woman who really believes in freedom and justice will not rest until Mrs. Harvey is released. It is perfectly monstrous that the law should be administered in the iniquitous manner it has been in her case.”

Mr. John Scurr said he had come to protest against the action of the Liberal Government in respect to women… Mrs. Harvey, in company with the rest of women, either taxpayers or working women, had not been consulted as to the National Health Insurance Act. Although that Act has placed a poll tax of 3d. or 2d. on every woman who works or employs labour at all, they have neither been consulted as to whether they desired that tax, what the amount of that tax should be, or what should be the benefits given under the Act; therefore Mrs. Harvey contended that, as she had not been consulted, she under no circumstances was going to pay that tax. (Hear hear.) … They have given Mrs. Harvey two months in the second division — (shame) — because she refused to pay a fine three times more than that inflicted on any man, and they called this justice!

The same motion was also carried by another meeting:

Tax Resistance.

The meetings at Bromley continue to be satisfactory, and at night’s gathering in the Market-square the resolution carried on Trafalgar-square was put to the assembled crowd, and carried with only four dissentients. A good many people, however, refrained from expressing an opinion either way. The meeting was under the auspices of the Women’s Tax Resistance League, the speaker being Mrs. Emma Sproson, who is now, we are glad to say, once more able to take up Suffrage work. Bromley gave her a cordial reception.

Another item in the same edition concerns another meeting about tax resistance:

Tax Resistance.

A most enthusiastic meeting was held in the Market-square, Bromley, Kent, on night in connection with the imprisonment of Mrs. Kate Harvey for non-payment of her insurance tax and license on manservant. Mrs. Cobden-Sanderson, of the Women’s Tax Resistance League, was followed by two Californian ladies, Mrs. [Eliza] Wilks and Mrs. [Laura] Grover Smith, both of whom enjoy the vote in their own country and voted in the recent election for President Wilson. Both the American speakers supported tax resistance as one of the best methods of protesting against the present injustices to women. The crowd throughout was entirely sympathetic and vigorously applauded the speakers. Popular sympathy is obviously with Mrs. Harvey. Mrs. Wilks is a Unitarian minister, and has worked for the Suffrage for fifty years.

Two charges of contravention of the Revenue Act were made at the instance of the Officer of Customs and Excise against Dr. Grace Cadell, 145, Leith-walk, Edinburgh, the well-known Suffragette, in the Midlothian County Justice of the Peace Court this afternoon. The Clerk of Court read a letter from Dr. Cadell, dated from London, stating that as she was not a person in the eyes of the law it was impossible for her to appear personally. Mr. Henry Seex, Officer of the Customs and Excise, stated that Dr. Cadell kept two carriages, and only held a license for one. She had been told about it, and refused to take out the license. A fine of £2, with the option of ten days’ imprisonment, was imposed.

The second complaint was that she had armorial bearings painted on one of her carriages, and had taken out no license for the same. She had had armorial bearings painted on her carriage for years, but this year she had refused to take out the necessary licenses. When remonstrated with she had only replied that she was a Suffragette.

A fine of £3 3s. was imposed, which included the license, with the option of ten days’ imprisonment.

An editorial by C. Nina Boyle in the same issue gave a criticism of government and taxation that was more radical than just the basic no-taxation-without-representation argument common to women’s suffrage tax resistance:

“False and Fraudulent Pretenses.”

People who “obtain money by false and fraudulent pretenses” frequently find themselves in the dock answering for their unhandsome doings before a jury of their fellow-men. The ordinary man is supposed to have a prejudice against being defrauded; the law is supposed to protect him against it; the public is supposed to approve of such prosecutions and to be ready to assist the law in its pursuit of the misdemeanant. What causes surprise, under these suppositious circumstances, is to note the very large class of persons who obtain money by false and fraudulent pretenses who never reach the dock at all, and the apathy of that other class which never makes any attempt to put them there. The class known vaguely but comprehensively as “the authorities,” for instance, is never put in the dock to answer for its abuse of public trust and squandering of public money. Yet it has earned that guerdon as fully and as conscientiously as the absconding clerk, the bogus company promoter, the false trustee, and the confidence-trick man. Why do not “the authorities” reap the same reward as those other malefactors? We wonder why not?

Mrs. Harvey is in Holloway because she will no longer consentingly give her money to dishonest trustees to handle for her. She has been adjudged “guilty” of a crime which is in reality no crime, but a public service. She has set an example of watchfulness in the nation’s interests that others would do well to follow. She not only will not pay for what she may not choose; she will not pay for inferior goods, for bad service, foisted on her without her consent, by false and fraudulent pretenses.

What is it we pay for? In the taxes and duties levied on the population right down to the poorest and humblest of all — who pay through their tea and sugar and the very necessaries of life — there is a vested right to a good return and to honest and able management. These paid servants of ours — the Cabinet, the House of Commons, the Army and Navy, the Civil Service — represent the skilled labour of national employment. Some of them get the highest skilled wages paid. It is only the exception when skilled work is given in return for those wages.

The legal advisers of the Government, one way and another, draw some £45,000 a year. The Attorney-General, besides his £7,000 a year, is entitled to charge a daily fee when put on to a job. The other is only a waiting fee. The result has been that one of the Government’s chief measures had to be withdrawn because it was not in order and did not comply with the rules; and a few days before the close of the Session a Government amendment of more than ordinary importance, affecting the shameful taxing of married women’s incomes, had to be dropped for the same reason. These two measures both were of deep importance to women. One was to have an amendment granting to women the rights of their citizenship; the other was to give them relief from an entirely illegal form of levying taxes on their incomes. Both attempts at remedying injustice failed because of the incompetence of the Law Officers of the Crown. Women are still to be refused the benefits of the Married Women’s Property Act when it comes to taxation, and over two millions of unlawful booty are still to be collected and disposed of by those guilty of false and fraudulent pretenses. No wonder Mrs. Harvey goes to prison sooner than let them spend money of hers!

The President of the Board of Trade draws £5,000 a year. He has under him inspectors who hold inquiries and make reports, and occasionally a Commission is appointed to make a special report. Such a report was made, at great expense, about two years ago. It was then pigeon-holed — a common fate of reports. Then the Titanic went down, and another Commission sat. This one cost upwards of £30,000. The Attorney-General cut in and drew his fees, and the Solicitor-General did likewise. Then it transpired that there had been the former Commission and that its report had been pigeon-holed. Had its report been carried out, the mortality from the Titanic disaster would in all probability have been less. The public paid for both Commissions, both reports; and it paid more — the list of casualties.

The Board of Trade is conducting another inquiry now. Major Pringle is inquiring into the Aisgill disaster, just as three years ago he inquired into the Hawes Junction disaster. The recommendation made then was that electricity rather than oil-gas should be used for lighting. The railway boards smiled courteously; the Board of Trade responded in kind; the same recommendation will now be made again. Women and children have paid with their lives for the false and fraudulent dealings of the Board of Trade, whose duty it is to maintain and to introduce safeguards up-to-date for those who travel by land and by water. Small wonder that some women are refusing to pay these “wicked and slothful servants.”

There was a fire at Messrs. Arding and Hobbs. Nine girl children were roasted to death on the roof or smashed to pulp on the pavement. It transpired that young lads monkeyed around among the piled heaps of celluloid with gas-rings and blazing sealing-wax. L.C.C. inspectors had said nothing; the manager pooh-poohed fire-drill as farcical. No report of this scandalous neglect ever reached the L.C.C. through its inspectors. There was another fire at John Barker’s. Five more girls frizzled to death in that outbreak; and it transpired that only a trifle over 500 of the thousands of London firms that keep young employees on the premises had complied with the L.C.C. regulations of , regarding precautions against fire. Women are only allowed to vote in proportion of one to every seven men in local government; they cannot turn out these inspectors, and can bring but little influence to bear, for the elections are run on party lines. The power above the L.C.C. is the Cabinet. No London County Councillors have been put in the dock.

The Cabinet is composed of persons who at divers and sundry times perambulate the country with their cohorts of supporters and parasites, telling the gullible public, with an unparalleled effrontery of bluff, that in their hands the finances, interests, and persons of the community will be safe. Other sets of politicians also go on circuit giving this a flat denial and upholding their own peculiar political pills and potions and panaceas. Sometimes the winners call themselves Unionist, sometimes Liberal; they are equally false and fraudulent in their pretenses. They draw large salaries for themselves, secure office, titles and pensions for their following; make shameless inroads for their own advantage into the public purse entrusted to their keeping, and misadminister the bulk with a recklessness only equalled by its ineptitude and inefficiency. Commissions sit eternally, for no apparent object but to enable commissioners to draw fees. The Housing Commission that sat at Birmingham denounced the “back-to-back” design; but houses are still built on the “back-to-back” plan in Birmingham. The Poor Law Commission presented a Majority and a Minority Report. Neither have been acted on, and Mr. John Burns is now upholding and extending the crying evils that the Commission sat to remedy. The Commission on the Jury System sat for months and months; its report gave no relief to sufferers and no promise of justice; but even what it did recommend goes unheeded. The Divorce Commission’s Report is waste paper; its only result, a private member’s Bill, with no ghost of a chance to obtain time or consideration, let alone a third reading. The legal advisers help the Cabinet to frame laws, and the legal members of the House discuss and amend them, with the result that no one knows what they mean until other legal gentlemen, or the same ones, have been paid a second time to discuss them before a judge and jury, who must also be paid to say what they eventually do men. The public pays three times over in this business of law-making; is it any wonder that some women are rising up to say they will pay no more until they have power to ensure more efficiency? Nay, is it not far more amazing that they have not done so long ere this?

The Government is the Great Fraud of the age. It and its supporters, with their false and fraudulent pretenses, cannot even govern. No one will pretend, in this the twentieth century, that “government” is rightly interpreted as mere coercion, repression, or exhibition of force. Government that is good, government, above all, that claims to be “representative,” must be based on the goodwill of those governed. The Government does not exist for one set or one class or one portion alone. No matter who elects it, no matter what its name, party or politics, all the community has an equal claim on it. Unrest in any direction should enforce on a Government the duty, the necessity, of immediate attention to that unrest, and an endeavour to remove the cause in some fashion that will allay the unrest without causing undue friction elsewhere. None of our governments do this. It is the fashion in governing circles to allow unrest to simmer, boil over and create uproar and outrage; upon which police, military, and specially enrolled forces are most improperly burdened with the task of quelling riot and keeping order.

Governments that cannot govern, that delegate their proper functions to subordinate institutions, that prate of the voice of the people and the mandate of the people and the welfare of the people, but heed none of these things until driven to do so by outbreaks of violence; that keep office but neglect their work; that take pay and do not earn it, are an anachronism. They obtain and keep their power by a system of false and fraudulent pretenses; and just as it is said in our little wars that “regrettable incidents” will continue to occur until one or two generals have been hanged, so lives will be sacrificed, children demoralised, and the people robbed wholesale, until some of the “managing directors” of our national firm make their appearance in the dock charged with obtaining money by false and fraudulent pretenses, or some other charge that will properly describe their crime. Meanwhile women should not pay their national contributions; Mrs. Harvey will not do so; the goods are not worth the money.