Opposition to taxes seen as unjust or illegitimate has long been a spur to popular resistance, as in the English Peasants’ Revolt and in the preludes to the English Civil War and the American Revolution. Taxes may also be withheld to demonstrate opposition to particular policies, for example military budgets and preparations (see D.2.b.), or as part of a wider revolt against state policies, as in the Poujadist movement among small farmers in France in the 1950s. An important example of widespread resistance to a tax on the grounds it was unjust was the British poll tax movement of 1989-90, sparked by Mrs. Thatcher’s introduction of a ‘poll tax’ – a new flat rate local government tax on all individuals, regardless of their income. This movement, which led to the tax being revoked and helped to undermine Mrs. Thatcher’s tenure in office, has inspired a significant literature.
Unfair targeting of the poor is one form of tax injustice. The other side of the coin, which has come increasingly into focus in recent years, is the failure of the very rich (individuals and in particular corporations) to pay their fair share of tax. Sit-in campaigns on this issue were promoted by UK Uncut, which targeted companies making large profits in Britain, but used accounting mechanisms to avoid paying any (or sufficient) tax to the UK exchequer (see A.8.d.). UK Uncut tactics and demands spread to some other countries, and were part of wider public, media and parliamentary criticism of the social irresponsibility of banks and large corporations. Tax avoidance and evasion is a global issue – particular important for poorer countries – and a range of civil society bodies in different countries have combined since 2011 to demand an end to secrecy on tax havens. The Tax Justice Network published a report in 2012 suggesting that 13 trillion pounds in financial wealth (excluding property) was hidden in secret tax havens. A whistleblower in the UK Revenue and Customs department in 2011 drew the attention of two parliamentary committees to another potential source of unfairness – tax authorities failing to enforce taxes of millions of pounds on major companies. Although there is potential for forms of direct action such as sit-ins and boycotts targeting companies (as Uncut demonstrated) much of the campaigning involves ‘tracing the tax’ and symbolic protests of the kind promoted by Christian Aid.