Surveying the Political Economic Environment

The issue at the heart of this post is very close to me these days.

In Canada, our largest food retailer, Loblaws, has just had a majority strike vote. “More serious” discussions are supposed to come of this, though I am hesitant and uncertain where to buy food if or when most supermarkets are closed due to strike.

In recent years, I’ve watched Loblaws create two-tier wages, and, in its superstore–created in response to Walmart’s incursion into food retailing–have no union at all. Loblaws is now not majority organized.

A woman I know, who was in the top tier, took a buy-out, took training, and now has a new career as a library technician.

Over the years, I’ve watched as its major competitor, Steinbergs, disappeared, an early victim of Conrad Black. In my local mall, Billings Bridge Plaza, there used to be both a Steinbergs and a Loblaws. The Loblaws now there really isn’t a Loblaws anymore, it is an “independent supermarket,” though it is supplied by Loblaws and remains filled with President’s Choice products.

When it changed “shingle,” they changed the layout; after 25 years of knowing where things were, several years later I’m still not quite sure where everything is.

Today in the mall, there is a Cole’s Bookstore, the original Canadian chain, and the foundation for what is now the Chapters-Coles-Indigo mega-chain including the Chapters superstores; I work at the Ottawa flagship Chapters. My mother was, for a short time, secretary to Cole, the founder of the Cole’s chain, at the end of World War II.

Up until about 2000, there was another small, local chain store, Prospero, the Book Company in Billings Bridge. The owner of the Chapters chain already owned Prospero when she bought Chapters and Cole’s, so, after she became the owner of virtually all Canadian bookselling, the Canadian Competition Bureau required her not to have stores within certain geographical limits; so Prospero’s had to leave Billings Bridge.

I watched the growth of Chapters.

I saw it not only take over virtually all bookselling in Canada, I saw it take over the largest book distributor in Canada with the result, rather like Walmart, it controls what it doesn’t own, i.e., Canadian book publishing. Its effect on Canadian publishing was also a matter in the Competition Bureau’s ruling after the current owner bought Chapters.

I never really expected to be working in the belly of the beast. But, in bilingual Ottawa, it is one of the few retailers that doesn’t require completely fluent bilingualism of its employees.

What is my point for all of this?

I’m not convinced of the effect of personal, individual choice to stop, or even slow, the inexorable march of the political economy and its oppression; I’m not sure what choice is, President’s Choice, or any choice now that it is the core of capitalism, and, as far as I can see, the core of our oppression.

When I was an undergraduate in the early 70′s–the first time–a young woman whom I was very attracted to left school for a commune; I have long lost track of her. In those days, the commune out of which Perth County Conspiracy was formed also flourished–you can get its record, a beautiful collection of songs, on YouTube;it is unclear whether this commune still exists, either.

I have long not been able to accept the idea that one can escape the monetized, late capitalist society, get off the grid.

I don’t own a car, never have; I never really bought the argument such a possession/commodity would bestow freedom.

I don’t buy water in plastic bottles. Its not because of the dependence on oil, and its detrimental effect on the environment, nor even the thought of selling water to Americans and others as part of some export-led recovery (we’re always trying for an export-led recovery!); its simply the idea of selling something that’s part of the Commons, even to Canadians. The whole idea just seems wrong to me, always has; guess I’ll never be a capitalist.

I remember watching Ground Zero of 9/11 how, in an earlier age, barrels or trucks of water would have appeared, but then there appeared “boxes” of water bottles; I’m sure someone received a tax credit for providing a “commercial good,” a commodity.

My current computer was a gift from a friend who built it–though with mass produced parts; I don’t think there are computers built with handmade chips, etc.

What is my point in writing this?

I think the model of individual action works less when there is no competition, when elites have crafted a world in which there is no competition, the world of late capitalism in which we live–and cannot escape.

This oppression is hard to conceptualize, particularly for those raised on the ideology of competition–that no longer exists or includes them, if it ever really did.

I have no details, but I struggle with what must be the new model, one whose very conception is militated against by the very fabric of what/how we are permitted to think–the oppression of late capitalist political economy.

It will have to be a collective model.

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