Sunday, 30 November 2014

Black Friday exposes the ills of our society and what we might do about them.

Last Friday was Black Friday, the day when retailers unveil massive price cuts and consumers are, seemingly driven mad by the desire to bag a bargain.

The police were called to shops across the country as bargain hunters turned nasty and in some cases violent. In Greater Manchester the police were called to seven Tesco stores following incidents of disorder; in Middleton two hundred shoppers refused to leave a store despite its stock having all been sold and in Stretford a man was arrested for threatening to ‘smash in’ the face of a female shop assistant.

Locally the police were called to the Tesco Extra in Hanley after a man reportedly punched a female member of staff in the face following a row over a PS4; there were also reports from Hattersley of customers literally fighting over bargains.

Merry Christmas and a happy Black Friday to one and all; welcome to the new dystopia.

A little over three years ago when disaffected mostly young people took to the streets and started grabbing white goods they called it a rioting. Erudite chins were stroked over the malaise afflicting our society whilst at the lower end of the intellectual food chain rent a quote MPs, egged on by the tabloid press, gave an exhibition of knee jerking of the sort you might expect from a robot chorus line trying to do the can-can.

When the acquisitive middle classes behave in more or less the same way, armed admittedly with credit cards rather than half bricks, there are a few murmurs about such behaviour being a bit beyond the pale. At no stage though were there demands for the birch and national service to be brought back. Instead the retailers promised bigger discounts and no doubt bigger riots for next year.

Actually there isn’t that much difference between the rioters of the summer of 2011 and the frenzied shoppers of winter 2014. Both were reacting against a system from which they feel completely disengaged by desecrating one of its iconic symbols. In another time or place that might have meant storming the Winter Palace or pulling the statue of a hated dictator from its plinth; in ours that means scuffling over flat screen TVs.

Black Friday and the scenes of greed fuelled disorder it prompted is an end stage symptom of the malaise that afflicts our society. For nearly forty years we have been living in the petri dish of a vast experiment in neo-liberal economics, the three dead brands that used to be the pillars of British politics have let the mad scientists have their way in return for providing cash to pay for the modern equivalent of bread and circuses, bribing a restive electorate into silence with cheap credit.

The experiment has failed massively, the lines outside the food banks are almost as long as those to get into the sales and they’re there all year round. In fact more than a few of those people out shopping until they drop are only a couple of pay cheques from joining the line themselves.

That’s why more and more people are turning to alternative ways of organising their economic and political lives. Faith groups have found a new voice and sense of purpose through confronting austerity, the Greens have emerged as the only political party able to talk about social justice with the quiet patience necessary when dealing with a dumbed down media, all we need now is for the trades unions to have an awakening similar to that experienced by the churches.

The talk of the forthcoming election might well be how well Ukip do and the unlikely postures the three stooges strike as they pretend the result doesn’t matter, but promise to do something pretty dramatic about it all the same. Behind it though will be another and more important story.

It will be one about communities forced by austerity to find ways of running their economy that are about solidarity rather than individual consumption; about those same communities finding a political voice that belongs authentically to the grassroots and by-passes the tired mainstream parties.

It may not happen overnight, but with courage and good will the world will change eventually.

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