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Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/504/3218

From The Socialist newspaper, 4 October 2007

Supermarket price-fixing scandal

"WE REQUIRE you to work Christmas Day and Boxing Day this year. Other companies are doing it and we have to compete with them". "We need to extend our opening hours and your working hours to keep up with our competitors."

"We require your work patterns to be more 'flexible' because of the competitive business environment we operate in." "We regret to inform you that the final-salary pension scheme will no longer operate, to maintain our competitive advantage."

Or so myself and my fellow workers are told everyday by the supermarket we work for. But it seems 'competition' may not be the unstoppable force our bosses make it out to be. The big four supermarkets Asda, Tesco, Sainsbury's and Morrisons and the big dairies supplying them have all been caught fixing the price of basic dairy goods like milk and cheese between them.

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) estimates that consumers have been ripped off to the tune of 270 million. So, rather than being at the mercy of competitive pressures, the 'big four' seem quite capable of co-operating to protect their profits.

This just shows the supermarket industry bosses' hypocrisy and greed. The bosses trumpet 'competition', using it as an excuse when attacking their workers. But the same bosses flout 'competition' to make a few extra million by price fixing. In either case it is clear that what is operating is not some mystical 'competitive force' but the naked greed of big business. 'Competition' is just the latest word in their vocabulary of excuses.

All this shows the hollowness of 'competition' when monopoly capitalism dominates. The OFT cries foul at these 'uncompetitive practices', but what sort of genuine competition exists when the entire food (and distribution) market is dominated by a few big players, who use their economic muscle to dictate what goes on in the economy and all our lives? Not that much as this price-fixing scam proves!

Why can't the supermarket bosses compete to provide their workers with the best pay and the best pension schemes instead of the worst? Why can't they collude to offer consumers lower prices? That would require taking them out of the greedy hands of big business and nationalising them under democratic workers' control and management.

Sean Figg, Brighton Socialist Party
  • Meeting for Socialist Party members in shop workers' union USDAW, 2pm Saturday 6 October. Ring Alex on 078154 17112 for details.
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