Fifth International Conference on War Tax Resistance and Peace Tax Campaigns - Hondarribia, Spain 1994

Workshop 3: What's On in Different Countries

The preparatory document

There was not. (We weren't able to finish with the question forms we sent to you. Now, you can see the answers we got at the end of the proceedings)

The report

This workshop had no formal agenda but started with introductions and this led into general discussions. To make these notes more useful, I have re-arranged the information under headings, starting with sections on the campaigns in the different countries represented.

United Kingdom

Monica Frisch explained that Conscience-the Peace Tax Campaign had about 2,000 members, who supported demands for legislation allowing people conscientiously opposed to war to have the military part of their taxes allocated to peace building. Very few are active in war tax resistance at present - the UK tax system makes it difficult by deducting tax from wages before they are paid. Conscience has the support of 88 Members of Parliament (out of 651) plus 19 Members of the European Parliament, and lobbies to increase this support.

Norway

Tulle Elster told us that there was no peace tax campaign but that the Quakers had been lobbying the Norwegian parliament. Tulle edits ‘Link’, a magazine about the activities of many different groups. She commented that people do want to redirect taxes towards peace and environment and are campaigning to get money back for peace. She noted that government funds are available to groups working for peace through military means, but very little for peace groups.

Spain

Pedro Otaduy from Pamplona/Iruñea described how war tax resisters choose an amount to withhold, perhaps 5,000 pesetas, which goes to support projects. Two years ago they supported a peace house in Osijeck, Croatia; this year the conscientious objector movement in South America. In Spain there are about 2,000 war tax resisters of whom about 100 are active members and this is increasing slowly. Until 4 years ago they suggested war tax resistance should be 10% of tax, but changed this to a more sustainable amount - he explained this is a long-distance race, not a sprint - and this is helping to get more people to take part.

Jose Laffarga said their activities in Seville were similar to those in Pamplona/Iruñea. They have contacts with other groups and are trying to increase the numbers involved, which have been going up since 1989 - there are now about 90 war tax resisters in Andalucia, with many more insumisios (total resisters) - about 20,000 - who are mainly young people who are not paying tax. He felt that perhaps resistance was harder once one is earning money and paying tax, though one's conscience does not change. Perhaps insumision is a fixed period activity, while there is no end to a life of war tax resistance; it is on-going, continual hard work, relentless.

Germany

Klaus Hecker said that there is a network of regional peace tax groups and that they produce a newsletter twice a year, but do not have an office outside people's homes. They are trying to lobby potential members of the Bundestag, but haven't reached all 1,500. They have published a leaflet about raising peace tax issues with one's representatives. There have been people going to the courts to try to reclaim tax from the revenue service, but these attempts failed. Even the highest courts can refuse to consider these cases, saying they are not important, and then the lower courts also ignore the issue. Now there is little action in the courts. There are about 20 or so war tax resisters, withholding varying amounts. Usually the money is taken from the resister's bank account - without even a court order - but they can also take property. It was later reported that the German network had won the 1993 Aachen Peace Prize and that Christa Voigt had made a speech of thanks.

USA

Susan Quinlan from California explained that there are about 50 local war tax resistance groups and several national groups, the main ones being the National War Tax Resistance Co-ordinating Committee, the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund, and the War Resisters' League. Her local group, North California War Tax Resisters, is one of the larger ones with about 500 members of whom about 10 are very active. Resistance takes various forms: some people choose to stay below the tax threshold by reducing their income, others withhold a symbolic amount such as $10.40 (the tax form is numbered 1040), some withhold the military portion, some all tax. Some people withhold state income tax (which pays for the National Guard) or refuse to file tax returns. The Government usually gets the money from employers or the bank, and sometimes efforts to avoid this lead to the seizure of property. A few years ago Randy Kehler and Betsy Corner's home was seized, which got a lot of attention. More recently Bill Ramsey was arrested (for no real reason) for leafleting on tax day, and ordered to file and pay taxes. This he refused to do and he was imprisoned for about a month. April 15th is Tax Day when taxes have to be paid. It is possible to choose to pay tax annually instead of as the income was earned.

Cynthia Johnson, from Washington, said she had been resisting taxes since 1988 but her employer now takes the tax direct from her paycheck. The group in Washington collects withheld taxes and organises demonstrations each April. The interest from the withheld taxes goes to various good causes.

Steve Gulick from Philadelphia is involved both with the Philadelphia War Tax Resistance Group and with the Quaker War Tax Concerns Committee. The Quakers focus on getting support for the Peace Tax Fund bill, and have a long tradition of war tax resistance. Their concern is to create a legal means for redirecting taxes. This raises issues about co-operating with the state. In the USA the sponsors of the Peace Tax Fund bill were not keen on the idea of a separate fund, but would accept that money be redirected to certain specific organisations (the Peace Corps, Women, Infants and Children's Hunger Project, and the US Institute of Peace). The bill is now at a crucial stage. Contacts are being made with religious groups and employers who might lend support, and the recent Religious Freedom Restoration Act says that the government cannot violate religious practices or beliefs IF alternatives can be found. Steve feels numbers of war tax resisters are probably dropping because it is relentless, ongoing. In Philadelphia there is almost $1,000,000 in alternative funds and the interest ($60,000) is redirected to good causes. However they find they do not get much press publicity except in peace movement publications.

Belgium

Koen Moens is involved with VRAK, the Flemish campaign, which is promoting a peace tax bill. There are some members of parliament prepared to introduce the bill, and they are lobbying others. VRAK also encourages symbolic withholding of 500 Belgian francs and their redirection to a peace tax fund. Since 1984 about 800 people have contributed to the peace tax fund; currently about 10-12 are doing so. Bob de Baecke's court case will take place in November and may provide a new impetus. The interest earned by the peace tax fund is used to support the International Project, courses on social defence for conscientious objectors and projects in Nicaragua. Usually withheld tax is taken from one's employer (with a court order) or property seized; no one has been sent to prison - the tax collector wants the money not publicity. Koen feels that the movement does not have enough executive power to implement activities and get grassroots publicity. Actions tend to be bureaucratic - writing letters and repeatedly explaining - and get few results. Success is linked to issues which raise the concerns e.g. Cruise missiles, the Gulf War, court cases and seizures.

Palestine

Elias Rishmawi had described his involvement in war tax resistance in the plenary session. He stressed the need to find the flaws in the tax and legal systems, the loopholes that could be exploited.

Military expenditure

The relationship between war tax resistance and military expenditure was touched upon several times. Many campaigns try to relate their arguments to the vast sums that are spent on the military, but often it is difficult to get reliable figures for this. Koen felt there is the need to link war tax resistance with social concerns, such as money not being available to socially useful activities, as well as raising awareness of conscience.

Susan Quinlan said that in the USA over half of all Federal Taxes ($400 million) directly or indirectly (including for example interest on money borrowed to wage war) goes to military expenditure. VRAK has calculated recently that 13% of Belgian taxes go to military expenditure, or 3.5% of the total government budget. Tulle reported that the Norwegian Women's Environment and Development Organisation had done a diagram showing military expenditure related to clean water for the world and other good things. She commented that people want to redirect their taxes to dealing with environmental issues.

Supporting war tax resisters

This was mentioned several times as an important aspect. Elias stressed that this was a major factor in the success of their campaign in Beit Sahour. He feels that war tax resisters, even if not imprisoned, need a support system. Steve agreed that it was important to build communities of support, and noted that the Kehler/Corner case had got lots of community support. There was a suggestion that there be support systems involving unemployed or marginally employed who are not paying taxes. It was felt that it was important for people to be in contact with each other, to be organised and to support each other and to spread the word. It was noted that people hate taxes and would like not to pay them - in Norway there is a ‘Down with Taxes’ party but it is pro-military.

Monica commented that in the UK war tax resistance was seen as a very personal, private activity and that some do not even want to talk about their acts of conscience. It was also suggested that our strong individual streak meant we wanted to do everything by ourselves, and that some people might be afraid of making their stance known. Because tax paying is an act by the individual, tax resistance also tends to be individual action.

It was suggested that if war tax resisters had more backing and more solidarity, more people would join, and that there were ways that people could support without being resisters themselves. The Tax Resisters Penalty Fund enables people who are not war tax resisters to provide financial support. War tax resisters also need moral support (and not just if they are in prison). Caring and sharing was seen as important, and as ways of incorporating values into our campaigning.

Links with Other Organisations

Monica commented that in the UK there were many different peace bodies (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, Peace Pledge Union, Campaign Against Arms Trade) but that the Peace Tax Campaign was very small. She wondered whether this was the case in other countries and what links different campaigns had. Tulle responded that in Norway peace groups took a pride in being separate and were not good at co-operation though this was getting better, though each still has their own thing. Tulle is trying to restart a campaign to redirect one day's worth of military spending to alternative spending. The Nature and Youth movement is very big (50,000), publishes an excellent magazine and recently did a poll showing that 85% wanted taxes redirected to the environment from military purposes. Grandmothers for Peace leaflet every Wednesday outside parliament, since 1982, focusing on military expenditure and encouraging war tax refusal. The links between war and environment were underlined: the military is the single largest polluter, as well as a drain on resources for improving the environment. It was felt that the time is right for building links with the environment and for a big wave of war resistance. It was suggested that we should do more together, we all want peace, and we should cooperate in order to do something big. Let us use the communications revolution (computers, email).

Suggestions

We really need to pull together relevant information on military budgets and expenditure from different countries and share this. Is this something that the international conferences could facilitate? Could information go out with conference papers? How would we keep the information up-to-date? Could computer technology help? Is funding needed? And has someone somewhere done all this already?

Let us work together, from the bottom up, to develop a movement that the United Nations will take notice of. Could we get a Resolution to the United Nations? For this we will need to organise. We also need to raise money and get public support. If a lot of people contribute a little, we will be rich. It was noted that we could ask our supporters for a regular donation (apparently the War Resisters' League in the USA has never done this). It was noted that the Ben and Jerry ice cream company in the USA donates 1% for peace. Perhaps other businesses would like to donate money.

A month of action on war tax resistance was suggested.

Report written by Monica Frisch (October 1994)

(Apologies for any mistakes in spelling people's names and if anything has been inaccurately reported)

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