Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Column, February 28, 2006

BRAVO to the burghers of Gwynedd.
I said burghers.
They are not ones to stand in the way of progress. They have seen the future and it has got a big green sign on it saying ‘Asda.’
They’ve given planning permission for an Asda store in Pwllheli, all 15,000 sq ft of it.
The town council didn’t want it. The chamber of trade didn’t want it. At a public meeting to discuss the application only one person could be found to speak up for it.
I dare say if you stopped people crossing the Cob onto the Llyn and asked them what they thought was missing from this beautiful area, few would pipe up: “It’s all very well having mountains and valleys and beaches – but why oh why haven’t you got a decent Asda for me to spend my time pushing a trolley in?”
I’m sorry, but Asda was not the missing piece of the jigsaw that would make the Llyn that perfect place to be.
Nevertheless, the burghers, I said burghers, of Gwynedd Council’s Dwyfor area planning committee have taken a different view on the matter than pretty much anybody except Asda themselves.
They are obviously just gagging to get into Pwllheli and Claire Irvine, Asda’s property communications manager said: “Our research has shown that people travel out of the town to do their main shop, so our store would keep people in the area.
“This development should be seen as a positive thing for the town.”
Yeeeees. Well, when she says, keep people in the area, perhaps you should read that as ‘keep people in Asda’, so any money spent ‘in the area’ doesn’t actually stay ‘in the area’ it goes back to Asda/Walmart shareholders, doesn’t it?
And as for Asda coming to town being ‘positive’, well, let’s just have a little look at that claim shall we?
Because if this Asda is the same Asda that offered workers in Tyne and Wear a 10 per cent pay rise if they gave up their union membership, some people might not share Ms Irvine’s view of what is ‘positive.’
It has to be said that the members of an industrial tribunal that the Tyne and Wear workers went to also took a similarly dim view of Asda’s tactics and ordered the company to pay a whopping £850,000 to the 340 workers there.
The GMB union, which represents some Asda staff, is also not too thrilled with a document leaked from the company which outlines tactics to be used to get more from the workforce.
The ‘chip-away’ strategy as the GMB calls it, includes managers cutting short, or not taking, breaks, to encourage hourly-paid staff to do likewise.
According to War in Want, an audit of 25,000 employees of Wal-Mart, Asda’s US parent company, found 1,371 violations of child labour laws, including children working too late, too many hours and during school hours. Nice.
The audit also found 60,000 instances of workers being forced to work through breaks and 16,000 instances of workers having to work through meal times.
All very, very positive, I’m sure you’ll agree.
But jobs are jobs, as the burghers, I said burghers, of Gwynedd will insist.
Yes they are, but not all jobs are equal. The United Food and Commercial Workers union in the USA has worked out that for every two low-wage jobs created at a Wal-Mart store, three jobs are lost in local businesses.
Over here the British Retail Forum has calculated that every Asda supermarket opening means the loss of 276 jobs on average.
Really, really positive, don’t you think?
And don’t get me started on bananas.
Well, alright then.
According to War on Want’s alternative company report for Wal-Mart/Asda, the company instituted a price-cutting strategy for bananas in 2002 which resulted in prices dropping by 25 per cent across the board.
To produce bananas at that price means employing the worst labour and environmental conditions in the world. Independent growers in countries such as Costa Rica, where there is protection for workers and the environment, can no longer sell to Asda or other British supermarkets without making a loss, says War on Want.
All the above information is available from War on Want at and, having read their report, I’m really struggling to find exactly what it is that is ‘positive’ about the arrival of Asda in Pwllheli.
Perhaps the burghers of Gwynedd can explain.

CAN anyone explain to me what the blimminy-flip is going on with Plaid Cymru?
It seems to be going through the political equivalent of a middle-aged crisis with this rebranding.
The new emblem means that now, apparently, Plaid is not in favour of dragons, but it’s all for daffs drawn with a Spirograph.
Do you know they’ve even got a sonic logo? A sonic logo for God’s sake.
Other people might call it a jingle and think that it is beneath a party to waste brainpower devising such fatuous nonsense.
There are people living in Wales in abject poverty and they devote their time to a sonic logo.
That will get them flocking to the polling booths every time.
We’re told that party members will be able to download the sonic logo, which is a sort of harp-like trill, to use on their mobile phones.
Fantastic, they’ve managed to combine two of the most annoying aspects of modern life – muzak and mobile phones – and make it their unique selling point. What masterbrain is behind this electoral strategy?
Just when is the Labour party going to call this mole in from the cold after he has wreaked havoc with whatever electoral hopes Plaid had?
And now we also have the return of Dafydd Wigley, and some might say not entirely before time, given the above rebranding.
But, if he’s successful, isn’t that going to mean a plethora of past and present leaders washing about Cardiff Bay, what with Dafydd El presiding, Ieuan Wyn Jones at the Assembly helm and Dafydd Iwan leading whichever bit of the party he’s going to lead now.
Perhaps that’s their new rebranded version of democracy, everyone leading their own little bit. And the Lib Dems thought they had a leadership crisis.

PS, I'm told it's a Welsh poppy, not a daff, in which case they do not know what a Welsh poppy looks like. Time to get the Etch-a-Sketch back out methinks.

No comments: