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Boycott the 35

This is a cross post from my local blog for local people.  Yup, it’s another boycott.  Getting a bit hard to keep track.

What’s the difference between 35 and 33?  We all wanted the 33 to get out of the hole they’d helped dig.

As for the 35 ‘business leaders’ (being 34 men, one woman) who signed the Daily Telegraph letter in support of the Tories’ socially savage and economically incoherent cuts?  I’m joining the boycott of their businesses, announced today at the Liberal Conspiracy website, and encouraging others to do the same.

This follows on from an article I wrote for that site setting out the hypocrisy of business leaders calling for public sector cuts when they’ve either just signed of big public sector contracts or stand to gain directly from these cuts.

So you won’t find me going into Carphone Warehouse, or Boots, or ASDA, or any of the other retail outlets set out in this list.

Now, I don’t think the bosses of these firms are going to be quaking in their business shoes at my stance.  I generally go to ALDI anyway, and I’m not even sure what Harvey Nicholls sells.

Nor am I making any great claim that my actions will get at all the 35; I’m not in the market for an aircraft carrier at the moment.

But the thing about consumer boycotts is that they can and do sometimes just catch on, especially when powerful new social network tools do their thing.

 It may just come to pass that the shareholders of some of these firms start to ask questions, when they see their quarterly results, about why their Chairs and Chief Executives decided to make such a statement, especially when there is very good evidence that their principle claim – that public spending cuts of this magnitude will lead to private growth – is utterly wrong (so wrong, in fact, that one of the 35 firms actually says it’s wrong in an internal email).

If the 35 want to glory in their own status at the expense of millions (including their own employees), they need to know there may be consequences.

Of course, the common argument against boycotts is that you simply harm people who did not cause the offence in the first place.  The right argued that about South Africa for years.  So I should make it clear that the boycott I’m doing my best to promote here, in my own small way, is not an attack on all the people in West Lancashire and beyond who have to make their living in Boots and ASDA and Carphone Warehouse and Marks and Spencers et al. 

It is an attack on their bosses, who seem quite happy for their employees to be facing massive reductions in vital public services and much-needed tax and welfare benefits, of the type that these very bosses do not need.

Will you, loyal readers of the Bickerstaffe Record, join me?  It might just work.

(Note: while Kate at Liberal Conspiracy says she’ll never ‘darken the doors’ of the firms she lists again, I think that’s over the top.  I won’t darken their doors till their bosses have offered a public apology, or been fired by their boards for their recklessness in putting their own status interests ahead of the interests of their firm).

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  1. Mike
    October 25, 2010 at 1:59 pm | #1

    I suggest an orchestrated campaign of job applications to these 35 companies. Many of them are currently implementing, or have recently implemented, major redundancies.

  2. Lethe
    October 25, 2010 at 3:23 pm | #2

    Hmm, this is quite interesting.

    1) I’m not sure if I worked for one of those firms I would be impressed with your statement that you aren’t doing it to attack me, because whatever your intentions your act, were it effective would increase my chances of redundancy/paycut, even if only marginally.

    2) Suppose this actually worked, and those companies suffered significant losses. How does this stand with freedom of speech? It could be argued to run something like this: “I’ll defend to the death your right to sy it, but I’ll do my best to ruin your livelihood if you actually do.” I appreciate that you don’t care if bosses get sacked as “they’ll be okay anyway” (which interestingly isn’t necessarily true), but on the abstract level it may be problematic.

  3. socialistedd
    October 25, 2010 at 5:14 pm | #3

    I’d wager that a lot of big business people who didn;t sign the letter support these cuts too. Extending the logic of this, should we then ask every businessperson whether they support government policy, and boycott if they say yes?

    It’s unworkable, and it’s a pretty individualistic way of registering protest.

  4. October 25, 2010 at 5:21 pm | #4

    That is a really good idea, Mike.

    Lethe: The point as far as I’m concerned is that the coalition’s cuts programme is far, far more likely to destroy jobs in retailing than the sort of boycott/protest I’ve been talking about.

    The business leaders who wrote to the Telegraph privately conceded that they were already suffering – they’ve been laying people off even before the cuts put another half-a-million unemployed in the picture. They made a public statement that pretended another reality when they wrote that letter. Many had vested interests in writing such a letter – they’d been awarded big contracts recently by the government and so on. So – their letter was about backhanders and ideology – and not about the reality of jobs on the ground.

    Take my borough – Lewisham. It’s one of London’s poorest and has a very high unemployment rate. I think about 8500 local people are employed by the council and the NHS. Most of those employees aren’t earning buckets, but they’re earning enough to help keep local retailers going. Retailers here are big and small – there are a lot of local shops and market stalls in Lewisham, as well as bigger chains like Primark and M&S.

    I think it is criminal for guys like Rose to claim that an Osborne slaughter of local public sector jobs will somehow help locals like the people in Lewisham into jobs. I simply can’t see how that will happen. I’m open to suggestions, but I just don’t see how that will happen. There was nothing in that letter than explained cause and effect.

    What I do see happening is a bunch of people being thrown out of work in Lewisham. They will stop spending their money then and there, because they simply won’t have income. They will join an already-long queue of jobless. You don’t have to be an economist to see that – that’s simply what will happen. Staff at local retail outlets will immediately be threatened as local spending power decreases. And, ok – perhaps a couple of major retailers will miraculously touch down in Lewisham and bring thousands of jobs with them – but why the hell would they? If retail is already tough in a borough because unemployment is high and nobody has money to spend, why would new outfits suddenly set up shop? That simply doesn’t make sense. You seem to be suggesting that inaction is the best alternative even in that case. I don’t agree.

    It’s a given that massive public sector cuts will result in massive numbers of people losing their jobs. It is also a given that nothing will stop that unless we oppose Obsorne’s programme at a grassroots level. I’m not prepared to sit idly by and simply say – ‘well, better keep my trap shut in case my little boycott brings M&S and its staff to their knees.’

    What I’m saying is that as a consumer, I believe the signatories to that letter crossed a line. They even lied about their own realities. If they find that a boycott starts affecting their bottom line, it is up to their senior management team to realign business to suit the consumer view. That’s how it works. They take our money, so they work for us. They adjust themselves to suit the consumer view.

    I do know what unemployment is like – one wage-earner in my family has already lost his job and found work drying up and that is a direct result of the recession caused by the financial industry’s excesses. And I tell you this – if a group of people had jumped up and down and said they were boycotting bailed-out banks because they’d helped throw the country into recession, they would have had my full support.

  5. October 25, 2010 at 5:22 pm | #5

    @socialistedd – ok – what are your suggestions?

  6. Lethe
    October 25, 2010 at 7:58 pm | #6

    Kate: I take your points about the cuts. I don’t know if I agree with you – my mind is still to be made up on the likely effect on the cuts – but I don’t think that the effect of the cuts is to the point.

    The key to your argument seems to me to be the argument that these firms are lying out of self-interest. Were this to be the case I would have more sympathy with a boycott. But apart from a couple of the firms who have won outsourcing contracts I have not heard of the firms directly benefiting from the cuts. I will admit my research on this is hardly thorough, and I would welcome evidence to the contrary, but I find it hard to believe that firms like GSK, Diaego, M&S, Alliance Boots and Harvey Nichols will receive any direct benefit. If not then one must assume they are being honest, not least because it seems startlingly unlikely that these firms would want to put the economy into a tail-spin.

    The macro-economy is immeasurably complex and we must all have tolerance for others views on how it does work and how it should work. To describe another’s views as “criminal” as you do is, in my view, insupportable. I have no doubt that others have similar opinions of your own views. I know people who want to shake people such as yourself because they are convinced, rightly or wrongly, that a failure to cut the deficit will lead to inevitable hardship for all. Were these people to advocate pressure on people such as yourselves, then I imagine you quite rightly criticise these people. Indeed, the internet is full of outrage about corporations and the wealthy using their influence to support their views and their interests.

    Attacking people’s interests because of their views is a direct attack on freedom of speech and is indicative of, as all such attacks are, a certain arrogance. Whilst there is good evidence that the signatories to the Telegraph letter were incorrect in their analysis of the economy, it is by no means self-evident that they are wrong. If we seek to shutdown debate by vilifying and attacking any who disagree with us then we fail to recognise the possibility that we may very easily be wrong.

    From the above I hope it is clear that I am by no means an advocate of inaction. I am a strong believer that those on the left should be articulating their view of the economy and rigorously criticising the Government’s proposals. This approach could be argued to already be having an effect given today’s proposals for increased spending and emphasis on growth.

    Freedom of speech aside I would also question to what degree a boycott is, with the greatest of respect, particularly well thought through. I say this in part because of your comments about the banks. A boycott of the bailed-out banks would have had no possible positive effect. It would have been almost impracticable – Barclays and Santander would have received an awful lot of business – and would have damaged businesses essential to our recovery. Not only this but it fails to recognise that banks already had been punished. A substantial number of bankers were made unemployed – I know because quite a few of my friends were laid off (none of them were anywhere near a high enough pay-grade to actually influence what was going on) – and bank owners i.e. shareholders, took an absolute battering, many were completely wiped out. On the negative side many of these were not particularly well-off pensioners like the couple in Germany who had rather inadvisedly put their entire pension in Lehman shares and are now bankrupt. Tempting as it may be to punish those who caused the crash, it is often rather hard to do it without harming complete innocents.

  7. Lethe
    October 30, 2010 at 12:10 pm | #7

    Come on Paul, I know you are busy but are you not going to defend yourself?

  8. paulinlancs
    November 1, 2010 at 6:47 pm | #8

    Ah now Barney/Lethe @8, very sorry – I’d missed this.

    I don’t think this is an issue which is unique to consumer boycott, but you are right that there is always a dilemma between hurting those who have nothing to do with the offence and taking effective action against those who do. Public sector strikes raise ther same dilemma – in the 1980s when I was a strike-leading nurse I was one of those who always argued, from an ethical point of view, for the provision of emergency cover even at the expense of strike effectiveness, and staying in touch with management on this. Had the ‘stakes’ been different e.g if whether our solidarity would have meant the collapse of a Tory government, then the brutalities of cost-benefit would have been differentl balanced, but they weren’t.

    I don’t think there is a general rule you can apply to this. In the case of the south Africa boycott, there was clearly an argument that the temporary harm you did to south African workers was worth it – and SA trade unions said so. In this instance I am sanguine about it because I think the boycott is much more symbol than real threat, and even if its effectivess did grow – and I have to hope it will or that defeats my object – I think the hit will in terms of shareholders getting nervous and asking for the backtrack from management before it gets to laying off worker time. As I say, one case at a time but I feel comfortable enough about this at this stage.

  9. Lethe
    November 3, 2010 at 5:51 pm | #9

    Paul: well if it is merely symbolic then I guess it avoids the issue of damage – although I think the comparison between believing in deficit cutting and apartheid is a little stretched – but I think on the free speech issue there is a problem.

  1. October 25, 2010 at 8:19 pm | #1
  2. October 30, 2010 at 7:56 pm | #2
  3. November 22, 2010 at 7:50 pm | #3

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