Why is Tesco such a big issue?

These are not my words.  They are the writings of a good friend of mine, Lee Salter.  But they offer good insight into the contradiction of Tesco providing jobs, cheap food and people shopping there because of it’s “brilliant service”.  The same very much applies to most large supermarket corporations:

Well I wrote this for a comment XXX’s wall (in response to something someone else wrote), but I might as well share it. Basically it’s an answer to the “let people choose whether to go to the supermarket or not”. Steal at will.

I think the point you’re missing is that supermarkets don’t really give people genuine choices. In the first instance, should they be faced with an uncooperative planning department, they bully, harass and (unofficially) bribe to get planning permission to build pretty much what they want, where they want. In this sense, one might suggest that protesters look to change planning law, but the chances of any government turning round to say “okay, we’ll change planning law to suit people at the expense of business” are rather minute. Additionally, local authorities are under such financial pressure, that they are loathe to say no, lest they lose out on the income generated through business rates.

Second is the mode of operation of most supermarkets – they tend to buy much of their produce from countries where there are large landholdings (often owned by big transnational corporations). Those large landholders will pressure their workers and tenants to produce for the supermarkets (whether Tesco or Sainsbury’s, Asda/Walmart or whoever else) for very low prices because it is more profitable for the landowner (rather than those working there, who generally have no choice) to export to supermarkets in bulk than to produce for local markets.

It’s not just in poor countries where this downward pressure on prices (and therefore wages) occurs (though the use of armed thugs and militia to prevent workers from organising for better wages – yes, they just kill anyone who tries to improve conditions is rather worse). It happens here too – just ask a small chicken farmer or milk farmer if you can find one – the suppliers TELL them what they’ll charge!

Finally, there are the customers. Faced with a simple economic choice, of course most people will “choose” Tescos. But this is not because of the quality of Tescos food or the “experience” of shopping there. It’s because it is cheap. Why does this appeal? Because most people are in a contradictory situation. We DO live in a wasteful, throwaway society. We are encouraged into that attitude every day in every way. At the same time, though, wages do not tend to keep up with REAL prices – so although we have to consume (lest we damage growth rates), but we can’t afford it so we borrow (ever heard of the credit crunch?!!) and/or companies work at keeping prices down (and therefore also wages down, creating a further contradiction) to enable people to continue throwing away and over-consuming. So, for example, the middle classes over-purchase rather often. This means, in order to keep up consumption patterns, we have to “over-purchase” relatively cheaply. Local shops aren’t able to offer cheaper foods because of their lack of control over the supply chain and because of economies of scale. If we take working class and poorer people who don’t necessarily over-consume, well, they just go for what is cheapest and easiest, which brings us back full circle to planning law.

I don’t blame anyone for going to Tescos – indeed, I’m not adverse to shopping in supermarkets. I’d prefer not to, but to suggest it is simply a choice is rather an oversimplification!

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