Unite against big business’ deathly grip

echoes CONWAY TUTANI

THERE is a lot to criticise about what is going on, but not all price increases we are seeing are that inevitable because in many cases, these are contrived with many big retailers taking advantage of the highly fluid situation to maximise from the public.

And Finance minister Mthuli Ncube has said — not so much in words — that people ought to see for themselves as to who is working against their interests. The effect of some of his policies is that they have opened eyes for people to see for themselves as to who is or has been most involved in their exploitation all along; and that a large chunk of the solution could actually lie in their hands.

Signs of this awakening are beginning to emerge, with a report to the effect that wholesalers in Mutare are reportedly contracting vendors to sell their goods on the streets, thus by-
passing the formal retailers.

A survey conducted by New Zimbabwe on the streets of Mutare established that locally-manufactured goods are significantly cheaper on the streets than in
shops.

A vendor said: “Every day I get three boxes of cooking oil, three cases of sugar and a cartoon of washing soap.I sell the stuff and at the end of the day, I remit the principal money and deduct my commission. I am making a living because people now opt to buy from us than retailers who are charging exorbitant prices.”

A manager at one of the formal shops had this to say: “We are in trouble. As you can see, the shop is empty because customers are shopping in the pavements. Our management should sit down and re-strategise or else we will be forced to retrench or close shop. Our products are overpriced and manufacturers are not happy with the current turnaround period.”

There is no better time to hit back than now when exploitation is rising to its peak, striking while the iron is still hot so as to confound and wrongfoot these exploiters so that by the time they wake up from taking customers for granted, the shopping landscape would have completely changed because retailers tend to be responsive rather than proactive.

There is no better way to bring exploitation to a screeching halt — instead of foolishly celebrating it as seen among those people who ape from the neoliberal economic mantra of worshipping big business — one that venerates the logic of the market and strips away the things that make us human — merely reinforcing current practices, taking for granted that they are the only workable prescription whereas new medicine is needed. This could be the right tonic needed as this could be the best time to establish a new normal.

With retailers increasing prices — mostly unjustifiably — it cannot be business as usual. There has to be a fundamental shift in consumer behaviour as regards how products and services are consumed.

People can take practical measures on their own, which have nothing to do with politics and everything to do with pragmatism. In fact, politics can cloud the real issues at play whereas pragmatism throws light on issues. Pragmatism has no creed; it shows how to get things done that are beneficial to the people in their everyday lives.

Even in these times of austerity, big business is reporting record profits. This shows there is something fundamentally wrong that is allowing them to profit from the crisis while passing on the costs to the working class.

This could be because public discussion on the economy has, for decades, been framed and controlled by corporations, led by a tiny 3% of the population at the most. Workers’ voices no longer matter. In the face of soaring corporate profits over the last five years or so, how much longer will we — the overwhelming 99% majority — allow this imbalance to continue?

We should not be sorry to the one percent’s so-called “economic uncertainty” mantra is increasingly wearing thin as a reason for low taxes, low wages and no bonuses, among others.

They have been singing this same song of “economic uncertainty” for over 30 years, but have been laughing all the way to the bank for most of those years. Who then is fooling who?

Then there is this glorified casino for the rich: The Zimbabwe Stock Exchange (ZSE).

Like Wall Street, its counterpart in the United States, the ZSE produces nothing of use, such as a product for our society/economy. What the ZSE does is merely make money from corporations and large investors, while the fat cats on the ZSE pay themselves millions in salary and bonuses.

It truly is a sad commentary on the extent of greed in the corporate world. The lack of concern for their own employees is unconscionable; it shows heartlessness.

Deregulation, corporate tax evasion, media consolidation — it all amounts to more trickle-up exploitation, no matter how you unpack it. Where is the common person’s representation? What’s left for us citizens? We constantly pay the price, while corporate interests are rewarded — the deck is stacked against us.

The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) has also played a crucial role in propelling the stock market, even if that was not the intent of policymakers.

The RBZ has made reducing unemployment a top priority, but in practice, its policy of keeping rates very low and buying up the safest assets to stimulate the economy means investors are willing to take on more risk in search of better returns, hence the buoyancy on the ZSE amid the austerity in government and gloom enveloping ordinary people.

But then governments all over the world, Zimbabwe included, have been bought by these corporations.

They are fed the hype and made to act as servants to the rich. Only the rich get bailed out, not the poor.

Opposition parties are also to blame, as they have lapped up the PR propaganda put out by these corporations that government is evil, that regulation is evil, even to the ridiculous extent that equality and fairness are actually evil.

The natural order of any unregulated field is for power to concentrate at the top. That’s why dictatorships, monarchies, and monopolies abound throughout history. Government regulation is what checks would-be kings, and blunts their rise to total dominance.

There is need to use the tax weapon. Taxes are not just about funding the government. It’s about making extremely high salaries inefficient for businesses, so they have to distribute their profits more fairly. I have nothing against wealth, but the government’s job should be to make sure CEOs can’t earn tens of millions of dollars while paying their staff minimum wages.

We have to put the people to work. What we need to do is tap corporate profits and use them to employ the people on repairing and improving our infrastructure. This was done during the Great Depression — the worst economic downturn in the history of the industrialised world, lasting from 1929 to 1939 — and it worked.

These workers will spend and the economy will grow again. We must shift some of the nation’s wealth from corporations to the masses. Without doing this, there will eventually be no one to purchase the manufactured goods and corporate profits will eventually decline as well.

That said, the working people, the poor and even small businesspeople need to band together and form a front that truly represents their common interests, as the first step to dismantling big business’ deathly grip on the nation.

After all, Mutare has shown the way by bypassing overcharging big business.

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