It doesn’t want to pay its taxes, it doesn’t want to pay a living wage, it doesn’t want to pay publishers, distributors or authors – it’s time to act, says JIM JEPPS
Today has become known as Black Friday, an import from the US, where the pre-Christmas shopping frenzy reaches peak stupidity. Things have got so frantic in the US that in last two years running two people were shot in separate incidents over wide-screen TVs, parking spaces and for their rights to spend like an enraged bull.
Large corporations use the day to focus US attention on filling their coffers to the extent that advertising for goods and services becomes indistinguishable from down-the-line propaganda for capitalist consumerism.
Ever the more level-headed neighbours in Canada responded in 1992 with an activists’ annual Buy Nothing Day where they advocate taking a day off rampant consumerism and perhaps reassessing how happy our possessions really make us anyway.
So indistinguishable from big politics has Black Friday become that this week in Ferguson pastor Jamal Bryant, who was arrested last month for protesting against police violence, has declared a total boycott this weekend. He said: “If a white officer kills a child he is still worthy to work? Black children matter. Black lives matter ... our generation stand because they refuse to roll over ... marching is good, praying is necessary (but) we need a clear economic agenda ... this Friday will be Black and Blue Friday, on this coming Thanksgiving black people will not be marching to stores,” but marching against injustice.
The pastor declared: “Let’s shut it down. We are standing with the workers of Walmart at thousands of stores across the country who will not be working because they deserve a liveable wage. We declare war on poverty, we declare war on injustice and we declare war on anybody who does not respect black children. We are going to keep our money to ourselves until the red, white and blue salutes the black in this country.”
In Britain most of us who encounter Black Friday do so via Amazon, which artificially ramps up sales as as it tries to get us to do our Christmas shopping entirely through them. As its near monopoly strengthens it is threatening the very existence of independent stores — particularly book shops. It’s estimated that one book store closes a week and that’s a trend that will continue unless we resist it.
Some booksellers in Britain are hitting back against tax-avoiding Amazon with a cheeky “Black and Red Friday,” calling on people to boycott the online retailer this Christmas.
Nik Gorecki of the Alliance of Radical Booksellers (ARB) and left bookshop Housmans said: “The public is waking up to the bad business practices of Amazon and a new boycott Amazon campaign this year has been gaining real momentum. This year the Alliance of Radical Booksellers is asking you to help spread the word about the alternatives to Amazon and support the alternative by way of your local radical bookshops.”
As Uli Lenart, of Bloomsbury’s Gay’s the Word bookshop says: “In spite of the complex and powerful dominance of multinational corporations the secret to society safeguarding our independent, local booksellers and businesses is really quite simple. Support them by spending in them — even if it is just once a year at Christmas — and they will continue to flourish and provide a humane and heartfelt local community service.
“We have an increasingly clear choice about the sort of world we get to live in — branded and ubiquitous or individual and genuine. Literature, publishing and bookselling — perhaps more than any other fields — should be about independence and libertarianism. Buying independent means that not only do you get to choose from a lovingly hand-picked curation of books with assistance from booksellers who love and know their trade, but your actions help propagate a more diverse, authentic and colourful world. What could be better than that?” Lenart added.
Many leftist bookshops like Housmans, Freedom Books and Bookmarks are more than simply shops with left-wing stock, they host events, attend conferences and aim to be part of a wider movement.
Last weekend Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham organised its first Bread and Roses mini-festival — to mark the first anniversary of its opening — hosting speakers including Owen Jones and Green Party leader Natalie Bennett and a concert with Grace Petrie, Leon Rosselson and others. This saw an impressive 850 people attend.
Ross Bradshaw from Five Leaves said: “Our Bread and Roses weekend was organised with the local People’s Assembly and supported by the Nottingham Trades Council and NUT but attracted hundreds of people who were probably new to labour movement politics so everyone benefited.
Like other radical bookshops we have an agenda way beyond selling books — but such events also enable us to promote our shop to a wide audience. Five Leaves pays the living wage as we think that no bookshop worker should earn less than the cover price of a standard novel and that notion chimes with the views of our customers. But we can only do that — and do politics — if the shop has a sound economic base ... and we create that by working with community groups. We promote them, they promote us.”
That’s one difference between independent, radical book shops and the likes of Amazon. Amazon has a vicious anti-union record including once sacking 850 employees in Seattle when it realised there was a union drive on.
It doesn’t want to pay its taxes, it doesn’t want to pay a living wage, it doesn’t want to pay publishers, distributors or authors — in short it doesn’t want to treat people with respect.
Peter Lockhart, the union organiser in Britain, said of one warehouse: “Behind the shiny facade of Amazon and the internet are poor pay, poor conditions, poor communications and poor management. It is anything but ‘new age’ inside that distribution centre.”
Conditions were so bad that one undercover BBC reporter said “The evidence shows (working there) increased the risk of mental illness and physical illness.”
Amazon Anonymous is asking people to sign up to its Amazon-Free Challenge, where customers boycott shopping with Amazon from December 1 to December 25 to show the retailer that “if they don’t pay their workers or pay their fair share of tax, we won’t pay them.”
Amazon is already feeling the pinch as people turn to alternatives, repulsed by their tax avoidance and poor working conditions.
Black and Red Friday is a way of reinforcing that we need to support independent, local stores over soulless multinationals. Already many of our high streets feel like identikit streets that could be in any city, in almost any country.
We can and should resist that trend, and when better to start than a day designed to be for rampant consumerism?