Tescos?? They’re Greedy!

It was a complete coincidence that I was talking to a local shop keeper about Tesco’s. We were talking about the local scene and the local economy and he exclaimed the above to me. At this point I have to point out that this self-same person displayed a Conservative poster for a recent local by-election. So, he could hardly be characterised as a ‘frothing at the mouth anti-capitalist’ – you know, the kind that John Rentoul rather oddly thinks the Labour Party is “in the grip of”. Now, it is utterly true that, on the surface at least, Usdaw and Tesco’s seem to get along well and that relatively speaking; Tesco’s workers do seem to be treated well when it comes to things like still having a guaranteed pension and bucking the trend giving its workers a raise. However, there is a darker side to all this – Tescos, for example, pioneered a scheme which docked workers sick pay for the first three days of sickness – rather disgustingly with Usdaw’s consent.

Furthermore, it is a major leap from recognising the things a company does some things well to John’s conclusion that “Labour should ask them to run schools”.Capitalism works on the principle of giving with one hand and taking, sometimes by stealth, with another. Top of the list of complaints against Tesco’s is it’s tax avoiding antics. John himself acknowledges this in his article but publishes a slight correction of the figures as if this somehow deals with the issue. Shaving a few million off of the sum total of the loss doesn’t magically make it go away nor legtimise it or excuse it in the way John seems to imagine it does. Second on the list of complaints is something that my shopkeeper would probably be most sensitive about – the complete lack of regard Tesco’s often shows for its impact on the local communities in terms of those who lose business due to its existence.

Grand headlines about jobs created always have behind them other jobs lost. So, when a Tesco’s comes-a-knocking it will create jobs for some and others will be lost, as demonstrated here:

If Tesco comes to the west of the town centre, there is a risk that we could end up with less choice – no Jaybee’s at Kings Furlong Centre, no Londis at Anstey Close, no McColl’s at Buckland Parade and no butcher or Co-op at Kings Road.

“And, of course, these people could lose their jobs, alongside losses at other supermarkets. It’s not about Tesco offering a wider choice, it’s about increasing Tesco’s market share and Tesco’s profits”.

Similarly, investment it may make in one area will have a hidden loss somewhere else and issues also exist around the prices Tesco’s pays it suppliers (which, of course, has its knock on effect in their communities). In his piece John is actually illustrating the kind of debate Labour needs to avoid – the false one between ‘good cop (company)’ and bad cop (company). In his fire and brimstone condemnation of ‘anti-capitalist’ madness, John is failing to acknowledge the fact that capitalism has spectacularly failed the people (again) and engage in a serious debate about why this is and what can be done about it. It is this debate that Labour needs to be having; revisiting its traditional critique of a deeply structurally flawed, unequal  and undemocratic social system and actually delivering some real solutions too. John Rentoul is leading Labour down a blind alley; one which ultimately there is no light at the end of and no prospect of it reconnecting with those who the system has chewed up and spat out, including by the likes of Tesco’s.

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About darrellgoodliffe

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