From civil disobedience to economic disobedience. From savage price increases to a self-discount. Don’t Pay is a grassroots movement of British consumers urging people not to pay the astronomical bills resulting from the current high energy prices, which have risen perhaps even more violently in the UK than in the rest of Europe.
From the beginning of 2023, every household in the country is likely to have to pay well over €4,000 annually for lighting, heating, etc. This is because on October 1, the price cap, the ceiling on the price of gas or electricity utilities set by the regulator Ofgem, will be raised by more than €2,000. As usual, the most economically vulnerable will be the hardest hit, particularly the elderly. The End Fuel Poverty Coalition claims that twelve million households in Britain will face so-called fuel poverty this year: the inability to adequately heat (or cool) their homes. But the problem obviously also affects many small businesses and commercial establishments, from music venues to pubs to fish and chips diners, which are already closing, unable to cover their costs. In contrast to what is happening in France and Germany, while the power vacuum resulting from the Johnson-Truss transition at the head of the government certainly doesn’t help matters, in the UK the frightening rise in energy bills has so far been met by inaction on the part of government.
A grassroots organization and movement of disobedience, economic rather than civil, Don’t Pay is first and foremost a bill payment strike. The goal of the activists is to gain one million supporters to cause a monthly hole of more than €300 million in energy companies’ revenues and force them to sit down at the negotiating table to end the price increases. There are no specific demands in this regard; for now, the goal seems to be limited to making it socially acceptable not to pay so as to force government and suppliers into dialogue. Launched in mid-June, started by some 20 activists in April, the campaign has so far collected more than 170,000 signatories who have pledged to cancel their bill payments on Oct. 1. They hope to become the “largest mass nonpayment campaign” since the Poll Tax. Liz Truss’s inauguration on Tuesday coincided with a surge of ten thousand signatures.
Awareness of the cause is being raised through leaflets. There are no obvious political affiliations. The founders/organizers maintain anonymity for fear of criminal retaliation: they would risk charges of “incitement to break contracts.” Utility providers could use collection agencies to obtain a warrant to enter a person’s home and install a prepayment meter. Protesters also run the risk of having their creditworthiness damaged, as government sources repeatedly warn. That is why those who can afford it plan to cancel their automatic bill payments to grow the impact of the protest, but then pay at the last minute.
Such initiatives are in line with a certain national tradition of struggle. From the post-World War II anti-nuclear movement to the protest against the Poll Tax that brought down Margaret Thatcher to the contemporary Extinction Rebellion and Insulate Britain, the mode of action is the same: one focuses on something particularly odious and tries to fight it through disobeying it.
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