It was 1964 when the first supermarket opened its doors in Britain. It signaled the end of the independent grocers, and the beginning of a five decades long parade of glutton and consumerism. Involving an erosion of social fabric and community values, a destruction of local centers of commerce and a concentration of wealth in the hands of a select few.
We are now faced with a situation in which our whole food chain is controlled, bought and paid for by international giants who are interested only in squeezing every drop of profit from the people of the world. It’s a system which crushes small businesses, which pushes farmers into hardship and degradation, and which provides the public with cheap and suspiciously sourced food. Third World farmers especially are hit hard by this unfair system. Free Trade doesn’t work for them and never will, because their livelihoods are completely dependent on the speculation that takes place in the City of London or New York.
However, things have gotten so bad for the working man in this country that we are almost totally reliant on the supermarkets. Normal people are not paid a living wage, and until that time most people will not have the option of buying from local shops. Their prices may be just a little higher, but until people are paid a living wage, that difference will be paramount.
Spreading wealth more equally gives people power over their buying choices, and generally makes the economy much more democratic. Noe-liberalism is not the answer to an undemocratic economy, free markets concentrate wealth and power rather than spreading it. To say otherwise would not only be to talk total rubbish, but also to participate in spreading the most destructive myth this century.
If people had more power over their buying choices then they would be more likely to choose ethically sourced food and products in general. They will be in better control of their own lives. They will have more time for relaxation, they will be more inclined to invest, to advance their education. The Living wage is an idea which, when implemented, will empower millions of people, and make our country a better place.
But this isn’t the only way to take back power from the supermarkets. Government must intervene with a strong hand in favour of local producers and retailers if they are to make any difference. We should block any new branches of Asda, Tesco and Sainsbury’s. If possible, I would like to see exclusion zones, places where multinational food selling giants are not permitted to operate. The shops already in these areas should be bought by local government and sold to local businesses.
After a few years, we could shift the exclusion zones around, eventually abandoning the policy. It’s one of a myriad of ideas to bring the supermarkets to heal, everyone of them worth trying, everyone of them vital. As George Monbiot says: “The fight against the superstores is a struggle for democracy”.
We should not simply put up with new chains opening up in every rural village, in every corner of our country. We shouldn’t stand by, powerless, as our community economies are stripped and destroyed by the supermarkets. The time for action is now.