Friday, April 22, 2011

ok : this is how it looks to me

-- tescos opens, after a long campaign by (some) local people to stop it from opening (Stokes Croft / Cheltenham Road / Gloucester Road are a characterful part of Brizzle, with cafes, independent shops, two bakeries, original Banksy graffiti, refreshingly free from all the faceless highstreet brands; the fear is that tescos will put the small shops out of business, and the empty small shops will be taken over by more subway and more startbucks. I rather like starbucks, but I think eight is probably sufficient for one town.

-- some campaigners stage a rather raucus but from what I could see peaceful and good natured demonstation outside the shop. although i use sainsburies, scumerfield and the independent one by the arches, I don't go in tescos if for no other reason than that you don't cross picket lines; you just don't.

-- meanwhile, there is a squat going on in a building near tescos, full of dangerous media studies students and sociologists. squatting isn't against the law -- it's a civil matter.

-- however, mysteriously, the State discovers that the squat also contains a lot of "potential" petrol bombs, or "bottles" as they are usually known

-- the State decides that the best thing to do is to evict the squatters -- i.e send lots and lots of bobbies onto a street where there is already a raucous, but essentially peaceful, demonstration going on

-- they further decide that the best way to do this is to close off both ends of the road so that even local people who have nothing to do with the squat or the demo can't get to their own houses (which is presumably why they surged towards my street)

-- they also decide to do this is on a Thursday before a public holiday, when lots of people are out, have been drinking, and don't have to get up the next day

-- whatever you may say about Chris Chalkley, and he's always been very charming to me, his think national act local campaign (painting murals on boarded up buildings etc etc etc) has either created a sense of a Stokes Croft Community or plugged into a feeling of community that was already there: I certainly have a "sense of place" and am pleased to live in the area in a way that I haven't felt about many other places where I've lived. so naturally, telling people that they can't walk down their own street in a street which has quite such a strong sense of identity was never going to be pretty

-- sure enough a riot develops, bricks get thrown and riot shields and truncheons get put into people's faces and tescos gets smashed up

-- in a fortnights time, when the windows have been repaired and tescos has reopened the peaceful hippies will want to stage another peaceful protest, and presumably the State won't let them because of what happened before

-- result!



this is just my impression: i don't know any more than anyone else does, and maybe there really was a bomb making factory and maybe V really was bussing anarchists in from Wales. the State controlled media is largely ignoring the story


off to the cathedral now

12 comments:

  1. I cycle past the new Tesco Extra every day. Tesco just shouldn't be there. Anyone who doesn't want to think local can go to Sainsbury's just up the road in Bishopston. I can understand that local people hate having this store forced on them- with the dire probable consequences for the unique local economy. The demos have been good natured- for example signs asking drivers to sound their horn if they don't want Tesco. As your blog says, lots of dangerous sociology students. There was a heavy police presence every day, and something was bound to happen. In my view the raid on the squat was wrong. Have they learned nothing from the St. Paul's riots just around the corner. It will not be the last time that this unexpected version of the Big Society rears it's angry head.

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  2. Interesting, thanks. This was actually the first thing I read about these events, as the national press seemed a bit slow to notice it. (They've done so now.)

    My attention did get a bit derailed by one line, though:

    you don't cross picket lines; you just don't

    This is probably an upbringing/class problem, but this is one of those ethical absolutes that is just completely alien to me. I keep wondering how it works; I mean, suppose the BNP started using pickets?

    I can understand that local people hate having this store forced on them...

    And this is one of those lines that makes me want to play devil's advocate. I appreciate that Tesco aren't exactly morally impeccable (if only in their treatment of suppliers), and I'm prepared to believe that the planning process may not have been handled very well here (I wouldn't know in this specific case, but they're often less than perfect.) But in the end, saying that this shop was forced on anyone sounds odd. Are customers being driven in through the doors at bayonet point? Or are all the customers coming from other areas, lowering the tone of the neighbourhood?

    It does seem that chain supermarkets are like a petrol-addicted society; they don't happen because anything is forced on people so much as because most people turn out to want certain things more than they worry about the consequences of getting them.

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  3. Well, I think the sociology students will possess the academic rigour and evidence base to answer this better then I (a mere economist). I'll ask James (a human geography student, so many overlaps with the sociologists)

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  4. I appreciate that Tesco aren't exactly morally impeccable (if only in their treatment of suppliers)

    And staff (casualisation, union-busting, and low wages). And central government, arguably, since Tescos are major tax-avoiders. Although I'll grant that all the supermarket chains are exactly as bad, since they're all part of the same competition-driven race to the bottom.


    in the end, saying that this shop was forced on anyone sounds odd. Are customers being driven in through the doors at bayonet point?

    See Andrew's first paragraph? (Some) local people would rather not have a supermarket in (what they percieve to be) their nice, characterful, area full of independent shops some of which would be in direct competion. They told the council they didn't want a supermarket there, but it opened anyway. From their point of view it was forced on them and they're not unreasonably cross about that. (So cross, in fact, that they were driven to stand opposite holding banners and plates of home-made cake.)


    It does seem that chain supermarkets are like a petrol-addicted society; they don't happen because anything is forced on people so much as because most people turn out to want certain things more than they worry about the consequences of getting them.

    I'd think of it in terms of externalities, myself. Those "consequences" are actually costs that the business avoids paying even though they're a direct consequence of its actions. The problem is lack of regulation, not a moral failing in the customers.

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  5. Although I'll grant that all the supermarket chains are exactly as bad...

    Is Waitrose's treatment of their staff as bad? Their vaunted partnership model is supposed to prevent that sort of thing, isn't it?

    The problem is lack of regulation, not a moral failing in the customers.

    Whose fault is the lack of regulation? (And if you answer "the government's", I'll ask whose fault they are.)

    I have this nasty feeling that a party who campaigned on a platform of "Make planning processes tougher and supermarkets scarcer" would have a certain amount of trouble getting elected. Especially once their opponents worked out a campaign that accused them of wanting to increase the price of food. And if you think that people are sensitive to and ethical about the externalities involved in their actions, I've got a few streets full of litter and some truly appalling drivers to introduce you to...

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  6. Is Waitrose's treatment of their staff as bad? Their vaunted partnership model is supposed to prevent that sort of thing, isn't it?

    They're a little better, but they still have a "no unions" policy. (As do John Lewis, come to think of it.) I don't think they treat their suppliers any differently, but as far as I know they pay their tax.

    Whose fault is the lack of regulation?

    Ours, of course. And you can blame it all on Original Sin if you like.

    But the deeper point is about how to frame the problem. "People want cheap things that are bad for them" blames the customers; "corporations are required by their shareholders to extract the maximum value from their assets" blames capitalism; "businesses are able to offload some of their costs as externalities" blames the regulatory environment. They're all true, but only one of them is useful. Passivity, revolution, or regulation?

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  7. But the deeper point is about how to frame the problem. "People want cheap things that are bad for them" blames the customers; "corporations are required by their shareholders to extract the maximum value from their assets" blames capitalism; "businesses are able to offload some of their costs as externalities" blames the regulatory environment. They're all true, but only one of them is useful.

    There, I disagree. All of them are useful, to some extent.

    Sure, you want to fix the regulatory environment. I'll agree about that being the big concern. But in a (yes, honestly, somewhat, more-or-less) democratic environment, changing the rules in a way that makes things a bit more expensive for people is a good way to lose arguments elections and end up in no position to change anything - unless you prepare the ground a bit first. You're up against supermarket PR departments, unfortunately, but that's another part of the context you've got to understand.

    And saying it's because of "capitalism" is an over-simplification, I think. It's a particular sort of corporate capitalism, driven by a financial/investment sector that acts like a horde of deranged cannibal lemmings. The result isn't just profit maximisation (which is a far less simple thing than it sounds if you look at it closely); it's demented short-term maximisation. Capitalism can work quite well in the longer term, but there's probably another bunch of regulatory and cultural issues to sort out there.

    But you've got to deal with the context. Messing about with regulation without that tends to leave you looking like an arrogant dirigiste goon with (oh dear) "no understanding of the concerns of ordinary people" or "no grasp of market realities". Which is a good way to lose the argument.

    By the way, does anybody have any sort of actual, reasonably objective survey data or whatever on how many people in that part of Bristol actually want that Tesco or not? I've seen claims both ways in diferent places, none of them, absent real data, worth spit.

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  8. I rather like starbucks, but I think eight is probably sufficient for one town.

    As my town has none, I'm a little envious. :) There is, at least, one right next to the grocery store I prefer to shop at in the next city over. (Chain, but relatively local. My options for groceries are HEB, Randall's, Wal-Mart and Target. Randall's is based in Houston, HEB in Kerrville or San Antonio, so I think HEB's headquarters is closer; and they're generally more cheerful stores than Randall's, IMO and IME. Oh, and family-owned, so they can plan 10 years out more easily than chains that have shareholders breathing down their necks constantly to show a profit THIS! QUARTER!) This allows me to get myself some tea before tackling the shopping list.

    Oh, and my town doesn't have a proper grocery store, either, so I'm reduced to going west or southwest for my groceries in any case.

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  9. As my town has none, I'm a little envious. :)

    This is actually a really important point. Ten years ago, it was nearly impossible to get a cup of coffee in the UK: even sit down cafes were known to put a spoon full of brown powder out of a jar in a cup of warm water and pretend. When I encountered Starbucks on holiday in the US, it was genuinely revelatory. Coffee you could actually taste; different kinds of coffee; staff who were actually pleased to see you, and where you were positively encouraged to spend all afternoon reading or studying or writing. Why can't we have something like that in the UK as well? The fact that we're now scared that they are taking over doesn't change the fact that they provided a service that we never had before. Same with the evil supermarkets. When I was growing up, "the supermarket" meant a small run down co-op which might or might not have remembered to order in eggs that week. We went to France, and gazed in awe and wonder at the aisles and aisles of fresh, cheap, interesting food. (People went on day trips to Calais just to shop there.) Now, ever town as its own Le Hypermarket. Or two. Or three. I only question whether we really need 37.

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  10. I'd been hearing about coffeeshops for years, in cities and college towns, where they'd have live music performers who weren't famous yet.

    I've been to non-Starbucks coffeeshops in Austin (nearest big city) on weekend evenings, and if you actually want to just chill and read, it can be difficult to ignore the sound of the band.

    But the coffee has to be good for the place to stay in business. (We seem to take our coffee seriously here.)

    At the Starbucks next to the grocery store, most of the staff knows my first name and half of them remember my regular order. (And, they don't make the mistake of thinking I want coffee, it's just a question of which tea I want.)

    The standardization/chain nature may be a bad thing in some ways, but I can go into a Starbucks in any city and be fairly confident that I'll be able to get hot tea that I like. In the US, good tea can be hard to come by, so I appreciate what I can get at Starbucks.

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  11. I do really agree with what Andrew says. (Although frankly, I find Starbucks UK coffee tiresomely dishwater-ish these days, and will much sooner go to Caffe Nero - or Carluccios, even better. Just save me from Costa Coffee. The second branch of which is about to arrive round here, in the absence of any of those others.)

    But you can easily find people who will tell that Starbucks is an evil on a par with Tesco, and that it destroyed a lot of hard-working and much superior individual coffee shops in this country. (No, I don't remember them either.) It soon becomes clear that some people's problem with Starbucks is not its ubiquity, but its mere existence.

    At which point, I just think a rude word at them and go Hurrah For Capitalism. After which, I find I have doubts about the people who complain in similar terms about Tesco. Terms like "tiny clique of loud-mouthed self-indulgent whingers" become just as plausible as "valiant defenders of neighbourhood individuality".

    Which is why I'm not going to form an opinion on that Tesco in Bristol until I see some serious survey data on what an actual majority of people in the neighbourhood actually wanted.

    And if it wasn't what somebody else wanted ... well, tough. As many LibDems will just have to be quoting right now: The people have spoken. The bastards.

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