As supermarkets continue to hike their prices, it seems a response is being planned – and not before time. But will it work?
A new initiative from a few people in London, including Ian Bone and raw (one of the leading lights of the ex-Wombles and more recently of the London Anarchists network) which has both interesting and controversial elements to it is the Price Reduction campaign, which they intend to discuss in November and possibly launch in the new year.
The idea comes out of their desire to start a concrete, anarchist-led drive to bring prices back down for consumers following months of heavy inflation, particularly for basic foodstuffs which have soared as land is transferred to fuel production and amid speculation on the futures markets.
It’s a timely idea. Companies like Tesco and the other big retail buyers have taken the opportunity of both scare stories and genuinely rising costs for suppliers to impose their market muscle and, cartel-like, push up pretty much everything while talking innocently about their ‘price wars’ giving everyone the best deals that can be had.
Pig farmers have exposed the true nature of such smoke and mirrors however by blowing the whistle on what’s happening to their industry. Far from paying every penny of the price hikes to farmers to offset their increasing costs for animal welfare provision, feed etc, only a tiny fraction of said monies are filtering down. In a telling interview with the BBC, one farmer noted that “either the supermarkets or the processors are taking the profits from this, because we aren’t seeing any”.
Now while my violin is small when playing for the UK farming community, most of whom are thuggishly right-wing Daily Mail disciples who would (and do) pass on their pain to someone else in a heartbeat given half a chance, the fact is that in this case their pain is basically our pain. We are not paying extra to clear their cost base, we are paying extra because the supermarkets – largely cleared just months ago of charges of monopoly practice by the not-at-all-toothless Competition Commission – want to continue beating their profit records.
So anything which turns over this state of affairs and places money back in the pockets of the working class is to be applauded. Which brings me to the plan as laid out by messrs. Bone and raw. They want to start off with what amounts to mass-haggling, targeting supermarkets in areas where they have a reasonable support base – probably London – to bring down a crowd, and with a couple of negotiators get local bosses to agree to big discounts (a variety of methods to up the pressure are being considered, but it wouldn’t do to give the game away too early on).
The thing to watch about such efforts however is possible secondary, unintended impacts. If they're successful there need to be mechanisms in place to make sure it doesn't simply get passed on – for example if you screw a few concessions out of your local Tescos, does that come out of their profits or from hikes elsewhere and cuts to pay for their workers and suppliers? The last thing we want is one section of the working class fighting hard to shift pressure onto another section.
While I’m not arguing against such a campaign per se, I have argued, both in public and in private, that there are easier targets and that IF retail is for definite it would need to be well-planned, with links to both the workforce of the supermarket affected and to shops in neighbouring areas – so whichever way they try to squirm in wringing back profits in their region, the information gets out quickly and a response is forthcoming.