The Tesco Embargo – An Interview with Claire Milne

Despite its explosive opening publicity business is slow for Tesco in Stokes Croft. Eight months on from the riots the local population continue to shun it. I admit to having used it once in a moment of desperation, but the combination of periodically upheld values and peer-pressure exert a welcome influence on my convenience-loving mind. At the end of the day, though, what does this embargo against the supermarket(s) achieve? And why is it deemed so important in the first place?

Claire Milne, driving force behind the No Tesco in Stokes Croft campaign, outlines the argument for saying No to Tesco.

To begin with, Claire, can you explain why multinational corporations are seen as “bad”?

The best place to start is probably looking at the purpose of corporations and that speaks for itself in terms of what the problem with large multinational companies is. The explicit purpose of corporations is to make profit – that is written into their legal constitution – so as a corporation you have a legal obligation to return the highest dividends to your shareholders. Therefore any corporation’s bottom line decisions are made around the question of what will determine the highest profit. Success is therefore defined entirely in terms of profit.

I would argue that you would be hard pressed to find anyone in the world who doesn’t believe that it’s important for our decisions to take into consideration the impact that they have on other human beings and on nature. When you step back and look at it, it is clear that if we destroy nature we are not going to be able to continue to live ourselves. But the legal constitution of corporations, which have gained so much influence over our lives, by necessity excludes environmental and social issues from being given equal consideration. Thus we promote social enterprise. We suggest that a triple bottom-line that includes positive social and environmental impact as well as profit be written into the legal constitution of corporations to enable them to act in the interest of the larger whole.

The Occupy movement has seemingly increasingly become about the power the corporations have; that they have created such an unequal world driven by the shareholder model in which the shareholders are receiving the profits but have already had money to invest in the first place, whereas the people who are buying the products are at the mercy of this model.

If we take the example of food and supermarkets: because supermarkets are reliant on cheap oil for their success (oil is a finite resource the price of which is now increasing significantly and will only continue to do so) so food production is going to increase in cost as well. For supermarkets, their overheads will increase drastically but they’re still going to have to return the highest dividends to their shareholders and to remain competitive in the financial market supermarkets will still have to offer competitive share prices against other industries that perhaps aren’t so directly affected by oil prices. So we’re going to see supermarkets passing on these cost increases to us, the consumers. If we are entirely reliant on supermarkets because we have allowed other shops to go out of business then what we’re going to see is that we’ve got no choice but to pay these seriously increased prices that supermarkets have suddenly brought in. What we’ll then see is that people on low income simply can’t afford anything because the supermarkets they used to shop at that were cheap have suddenly become extortionately expensive.

Meanwhile that money is being drained from the local economy. Whereas when you’ve got independent shops that aren’t corporations, that are more locally focused and that don’t rely on these centralized distribution networks and economies of scale, they are able to source locally. This means the money is being circulated in the local economy rather than being drained out to these remote shareholders. This is really important in terms of us being able to shape our own communities. For people to want to play a part in building their own community they need to see the tangible way that it works. And again multinationals remove us from that, they prevent us from being able to see because they are kind of imposed on us and it’s all so complex being part of this big globalised system, whereas when you’ve local independent businesses it’s so much more obvious how the world works. Then there’s that incentive to be involved because you can see how it benefits you and the people in your community.

The other big problem of multinationals is that they really remove us from the implications of the impacts of the decisions that we make. Basically, if we were buying more locally produced goods we’d become so much more aware of the implications of this decision. So for instance, if you buy a pair of jeans that are on sale for a fiver – because they’ve been made by somebody working in a sweatshop in China – you’re not aware of the inhumane conditions that they have been subjected to. Whereas if it was made on our doorstep and we knew it was our neighbour’s son who was being subjected to such inhumane conditions I doubt we’d be making those same decisions. It’s only because you don’t have to face the consequences. And that for me is how globalization has gleaned its financial successes and that’s what multinationals do.

Why was the Tesco store allowed to be opened despite such active disapproval within the community?

Local council do not have the power to prevent a shop opening on the basis of local community preference. Even if the whole community – every single person – said they did not want it there is nothing local council would be able to do, which points to a flaw in the planning policies. One tool that is available to councils is the impact assessment which determines whether a store is dangerous or not to a local community. In this case 42 deliveries per week happen on the bus and cycling route part of the notoriously busy Gloucester Road. But when the planning permission application was granted it was done so on the assumption that there’d only be two deliveries a week because it was not known that Tesco was applying. Our council claimed it would be illegal for them to carry out an impact assessment in this case because it would have been a form of supermarket discrimination. However, on the basis of the store contravening safety issues there is the possibility of proving that the council neglected to do an impact assessment. We are going for a judicial review to decide whether it would have been illegal for the council to conduct that impact assessment. If the judge decides yes then it confirms that our planning system does not have the power to protect communities. If on the other hand it is ruled against it will show that the council was perhaps reluctant to use this process because of the pressure applied by large supermarkets.

There are around 300 communities resisting these sorts of developments in this country – to be exact 288 about a year ago! We’ve been in close communication with the Cambridge campaigners – and it has emerged that the same tricks are being pulled by Tesco in different communities (to push through council permission for store openings) and local councils are making the same mistakes. For example, we employed an independent noise assessor and his findings were that Tesco’s noise assessment was fudged by its own professional noise consultants.

What about short term / mid term implications of no longer operating on a profit basis? What will happen to the economy, jobs and, for this country, our capital’s international status that many argue generates the wealth that we enjoy?

The hierarchical model will be around for a while – it will be a slow transition. I don’t think we need to worry about the implications because even if big businesses went elsewhere that would afford the opportunity for more social enterprises, which ultimately is the only sustainable and indeed competitive way forward. Ultimately once oil prices rocket social enterprises will be more competitive than companies operating under the shareholder model because they won’t have the same profit obligation as corporations and will be more locally sourced, so they will be able to reinvest into the business, making prices lower, and therefore more competitive. Market forces will support the different models in time. Better to do it now and be prepared than wait till last moment and panic.

What can people do?

For starters minimize the amount you buy from big corporations and chain stores. Buy more from locally-owned stores. This will probably mean you buy less, which is good anyway! This is not about trying to change your life overnight because that is unsustainable. Start small, focus on one aspect of your consuming pattern you want to change, whether that’s food, or clothes or electronics, and give yourself that challenge for the next couple of months. Once you’ve integrated that into your lifestyle you can move onto the next thing. Do it slowly. If you try and do it overnight your life will become miserable and then you’ll resent it and you won’t want to do it. Find out what community owned initiatives are happening in your community and support them in whatever way you can. Again don’t over commit, choose one. A few hours a week. The more everyone can chip in just a little bit the more we’re going to be able to create these community owned solutions that will create a really beautiful future for ourselves. Based on a connection between ourselves and each other and the moment rather than a focus on linear growth. If you do choose to step a little bit off the treadmill of working all week you find that if you have more time you often can have more contentment and don’t need to buy so much. So you don’t need so much money…

Claire’s passion for supporting local economy and healthy locally sourced food has lead her to take part in the formation of a “People’s Supermarket” in Bristol, due to open this summer, which aims to offer a community run alternative to supermarkets with competitively priced locally sourced food.

To find out more or get involved visit:
www.bristolpeoplessupermarket.org
www.NoTescoInStokesCroft.org.uk

Rachel Carson’s Natural Wonder

The story of the life and work of the American marine biologist and conservationist Rachel Carson is one of my sources of strength and inspiration.  If you’ve heard of her it’s most likely to be through her book Silent Spring, published in 1962, which brought environmental concerns, and more specifically the dangers of using chemical pesticides on the land, to an unprecedented proportion of the American public.  In doing so it sparked an international controversy with the chemical companies going up in arms, fiercely denying her claims. But the American government took note and DDT and other chemicals were banned just a year after the book’s publication. And the grassroots environmental movement that the book inspired led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Movement. Some book.

Rachel Carson showed incredible strength of character in the midst of the controversy when she was subject to derision, lawsuits and fierce personal insults – she spoke in court whilst she was suffering from breast cancer and remained serene in the face of her attackers, sure of her facts and sensitive in her delivery of them.

She had a deep love of nature and desire to protect it, and she coupled this with her gift of writing – she was, in a sense, a poet who wrote on behalf of the land and this story alone is inspiring. But there’s a chance that we might find it difficult to relate entirely, what with our limited knowledge of ecology and not being in perhaps quite the right place at the right time to bring about change on such a scale.  How can we relate this to our own humble lives?

Luckily there’s more.  Before writing Silent Spring, Carson wrote an essay for Women’s Home Companion called ‘Help Your Child to Wonder’.  She very much wanted to expand it for a book but the pesticide controversy created by Silent Spring overwhelmed her energies and it was published as The Sense Of Wonder posthumously without further augmentation.

Carson believed passionately that one of the most important ways to safeguard the natural world was for us to cultivate our sense of wonder for it – for us to keep alive that freshness with which we saw the natural world for the first time.  She also believed that the most fertile time for nurturing this sense was in childhood, and so in The Sense of Wonder she shares with us her prescription for doing this, describing how she and her three year old grandnephew Roger spend time together enjoying the woodlands and shores near her house.  There’s a strong emphasis on exploring nature with feelings and emotions, to use all our senses, for what we love we will want to learn about and protect.  Her writing is just beautiful, perhaps you’ll agree:

“One stormy autumn night when my nephew Roger was about twenty months old I wrapped him in a blanket and carried him down to the beach in the rainy darkness.  Out there, just at the edge of where-we-couldn’t-see, big waves were thundering in, dimly seen white shapes that boomed and shouted and threw great handfuls of froth at us.  Together we laughed for pure joy – he a baby meeting for the first time the wild tumult of Oceanus, I with the salt of half a lifetime of sea love in me.  But I think we felt the same spine-tingling response to the vast, roaring ocean and the wild night around us.”

“We have let Roger share our enjoyment of things people ordinarily deny children because they are inconvenient, interfering with bedtime, or involving wet clothing that has to be changed or mud that has to be cleaned off the rug.  We have let him join us in the dark living room before the big picture window to watch the full moon riding lower and lower toward the far shore of the bay, setting all the water ablaze with silver flames and finding a thousand diamonds in the rocks on the shore as the light strikes the flakes of mica embedded in them.  I think we have felt that the memory of such a scene, photographed year after year by his child’s mind, would mean more to him in manhood than the sleep he was losing.  He told me it would, in his own way, when we had a full moon the night after his arrival last summer.  He sat quietly on my lap for some time, watching the moon and the water and all the night sky, and then he whispered, “I’m glad we came.”

This is what gives me the most hope from the story of Carson’s life and work – her answer to how we can all make a small but profound contribution to nature’s protection no matter how large or small our sphere of influence appears to be – we can all, in our own way, keep alive our sense of wonder and protect it in children.

Poem: An Incubation

An Incubation

As Winter comes and the sun
Skirts low along the horizon
Let your body settle into
The cold cradle of this earth.

As your limbs stiffen
And your circulation slows
To a soft steady pulse so
The frets and refuse
Of a full wearisome year
Can uncouple themselves
And fall away
Forever.

Let the soil’s black dung
Cake your thirsty skin,
Slake your need for silence,
Cocooning you in.

And as you lie awake
Letting the new year in
Your body warms the still small space:
An incubation is taking place.

But, if you must keep moving
Then set your shoulder to the whip sharp wind
And, as you toil across this landscape of ice
Don’t think twice. Just trudge.

If you reach that impossible pass,
Encased by thick frigid darkness,
Where hope’s warm glimmer
Has turned to treacherous steel,

There you’ll be able to feel
The thin hard prods
Of life rising
From within.

Like a fakir lying rapturously
On a thousand pinpoints of pain
So you’ll be lifted by the
Many impulses
Newly ignited
Within your weeping,
Frozen flesh.

Freddy Weaver, January 2012.

Editorial

The loose theme of this edition is Winter. Somewhat like the weather patterns of late this publication’s timing is unpredictable! But I’m glad to be going to press while the last strains of this season can be heard before we encounter the overture of Spring.

Although I love the sun and contract against the cold, I like this season. Winter stages Nature’s rebellion against productivity, and as such is a fine champion of the emerging movement away from industrialised economic imperatives towards balance. The projected fears of a consumerist society can be eloquently alleviated in Winter’s long slow curve through hibernation and back to the budding of Spring. This period of inactivity, far from heralding ruin, allows the earth’s mantle to settle, regenerate and seed.

How wonderful it would be if we could allow ourselves to learn from the seasons and follow suit! If we could trust in life’s own rhythm instead of being driven by a thousand fears of not having, doing or being enough. Perhaps there would be a different experience of humanity that would no longer aspire to be “out of this world” but, simply and satisfyingly, of it.

Yoga in the Winter

The winter months can be a challenging time of the year. The headlong rush into the festive season brings with it parties, shopping and busy days and evenings. This is followed by a slide into the relative inactivity of the first two months of the year. January and February can feel lengthy and sustained particularly if the days are dark, cold and wet.

Of course this is not true for one and all but for those of us who feel a lack of inspiration, low energy levels and the need for more sleep, being the best we can be for ourselves, our family, friends and community can feel more arduous.

The sharp contrast of high and low energy before and after Christmas is recognised within the context of yoga philosophy. The gunas, or primary qualities of our nature, are three states of being that relate to the energy flowing through our body. Rajas is a high energised state characterised by an exaggerated outgoing flow. Its opposite is Tamas, a low level energy more akin to darkness, stillness and sleep. The middle ground is Sattva, which is a fullness of being, a brightness of energy, which is enriching to yourself and those around you without sapping your strength.

With the move from festive celebrations to the often uneventful beginning months of the year, many of us have veered dramatically from a high rajasic state to a low tamasic one, the consequences being that we feel out of kilter, off balance and perhaps a little overwhelmed or uninspired with life.

Yoga helps to redress the balance, whether you are new to the class or returning to your mat. The word yoga has Sanskrit origins in the words to yolk or to bring into union. A good teacher or a well-intentioned personal practice will help you to harmonise these competing states of body and mind and bring a sense of togetherness, or wellbeing.

When you feel more balanced and less scattered it is much easier to deal with the daily challenges of life in a harmonious way. That is not to say you will become a fully fledged saint but you may feel more inclined to be patient with the frustrating situation or the testing person.

If your body and mind are not pulling in two different directions at once your energy levels may improve, fuelling your inspiration and positive thought processes. This can impact upon your mood, job, friends and family in a wonderful way.

According to a recent article by Alice G Walton in Forbes magazine, ‘yoga also boosts levels of the feel-good brain chemicals like GABA, serotonin and dopamine, which are responsible for feelings of relaxation and contentedness’. Ask anyone who’s been to a good yoga class recently how they feel afterwards and they will back this up whole-heartedly.

Yoga also helps you to promote the para-sympathetic nervous system which is what allows the body to sleep more restfully, repair and nourish itself, digest food, have more relaxed sex and generally do the housekeeping. This helps to calm the mind by drawing us away from the frenetic and stressful sympathetic nervous state which is responsible for our fight and flight reactions and which is often over stimulated by the demands of work, the media and the mobile phone and other technology that we carry close to us for most of the day and which sometimes also wakes us at night.

Once you’ve found a good teacher, who speaks to you in a way that appeals, and you get down on to the yoga mat, the results can be very beneficial. You can begin to align your body and mind with Sattva, the fruitful and balanced energy between the competing high and low states of tamas and rajas.

If you practice yoga with awareness and allow time for movement and stillness, sound and silence, the possibility of receiving the gift of alignment and union within yourself becomes more of a reality. With an open heart and mind, this newly acquired positivity and feeling of wellbeing will ripple out through your life and into the lives of others.

By way of an introduction I have put together a short sequence of yoga postures that anyone can do that will help by beginning to restore balance during the winter months. This is just a taster. If you can get to a class with a teacher you like, the benefits will be felt more deeply.

Triangle – stand with feet wide apart, turn one foot out, raise arms to shoulder height, bend sideways as if between two sheets of glass.
Forward bend – stand with feet hip distance apart, soften the knees, raise the arms to shoulder height, swoop down gently into a forward bend with head and arms hanging down to the ground.
Back bend – raise the arms into the air above the head, ease the hips forward pushing the weight over the toes.
Heart opener – bend knees, bend forward, hug arms around body, breath in, straighten legs, reach arms back behind you, lift chest and look up. Repeat with the breath.

Ben Parkes is a trained and certified traditional hatha yoga teacher based in Bradford on Avon. He teaches classes and workshops in Wiltshire and Somerset. Visit www.yogaben.co.uk