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Don't Play The Game

So here it is, merry Christmas! Have you started buying presents, having fun, watching the high street sales rising and getting into debt? Don't play that game! I'd like to suggest seven Alt-Sheff-style alternatives. But first, who are we buying from?

Perhaps you go for bargains at Tesco, with its Cayman Islands capital gains tax avoidance and its aggressive "Tesco Town" expansion policy? "Every little hurts!" Look up "Tescopoly" to get the bigger picture. Heiress of the Tesco empire, politician Shirley Porter, has been described by Nicholas Lezard in The Guardian as "by a considerable margin, the most corrupt British public figure in living memory, with the possible exception of Robert Maxwell". Her secret programme shipped out boatloads of working class

people from Westminster to asbestos-riddled flats to leave the borough a Conservative majority. An illegal class version of ethnic cleansing, and she was caught out. After years of running and salting away her fortune in Israel, she finally paid the fine. But Westminster remained Conservative. Are all the big shops linked to such corruption? Debenhams? It's owned by a string of investment management funds with international shareholders all over the world. Argos? Part of the Home Retail Group. Sounds homely, but if you want to be impressed by statistics showing the massive inequalities in our society, the largest general goods retailer in the UK has 80% of its shares in the hands of just 0.36% of the total shareholders. Just ask yourself who these corporate shareholders are. Pension funds? Don't make me laugh.

Very few of the (not) hard-earned profits end up in Sheffield, or in the more poverty-stricken parts of the world. This is the crux of the problem - wealth is 'created' (i.e. sucked out of) places, to end up concentrated somewhere else, probably with shiny happy people in various tax havens around the world. The rich elites pass wealth from one generation to the next through history, with few exceptions. It's a class structure thing. More unfair than Monopoly. It's us and them. Old Father Christmas-beard Karl Marx may have got some predictions wrong, but he was right about this.

So what are the alternatives to fattening up the rich this Christmas?

Buy from co-operatives. The idea is simple - joint ownership by workers or consumers makes co-ops different. Large or small, co-ops are the jokers in the pack among the capitalist shops. Buy from locally-owned shops. It's what this magazine is all about. Local is good. OK, the profit may go from your pocket to someone in the nicer side of Sheffield, but that's better than Zurich or Texas, because it's more likely to keep the money circulating in Sheffield's economy. Buy second-hand, maybe from charity shops. Young kids don't care if they get pre-enjoyed toys. Old books can be fascinating, especially if you slip a tenner in for something they really want!

Food? Buy organic if you can afford it. The chemical industry won't notice you've left their table, but for the small organic farmer every new customer is a boost. Buy ethical. You can't get locally grown coffee or nuts, but how about Fair Trade? It's a way to upset the odds stacked against poor farmers, dealt a rotten hand by "free" trade and the legacy of colonialism. It won't change the whole game, but it's a win-win for the communities that get living wages and a chance to develop facilities like schools.

Buy at fayres and festivals to help local groups. At the time of writing, Alt- Sheff is listing Heeley City Farm's Christmas Fayre and Buxton Book Fair, for second-hand bargains. No doubt there's more to come. One final thought: Don't spend, save. Or at least prepare for the debt you can't help running up. You don't need to owe the nasty banker, because Sheffield has a strong credit union. It's an alternative to banks, owned by all the members. Friendly and ethical financial services (I know from experience!) It's a good choice for a life free from money worries.

Details of all the above and more at alt-sheff.org.uk. )

Next article in issue 33

Council Axe Pear Shaped

Hello, I'm pleased that Now Then has asked me, as Chancellor, to state why the Comprehensive Spending Review will create a hopeful, prospero…

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