The People You Meet — The Grocer

He was something apart from the working class. True, he was born in Poplar; indeed he lives there still, but whereas most of his neighbours live in tenements or houses he lives in the dark, cramped quarters above his shop. He is a “small business man.”

He recalls the days when his kind were more numerous, when the majority of goods and services requested by those around him were supplied by such as he. Every district had its Welsh dairy, its German delicatessen and Chinese laundry. Now it’s the United Dairies, Sainsbury’s, Woolworth’s, Forty Shilling Tailors, and of course that most villainous of all rivals, the Co-op.

Naturally he is concerned with his future. On one hand the Beaverbrook press tells him that the Labour Party is his enemy; on the other hand the Daily Herald points out that they are the protectors of his kind. He sees evidence on both sides. Beaverbrook has never vehemently attacked the chainstores, and though he has vaguely mentioned the restriction of monopolies, the bite of his venom is directed at the Co-ops and nationalised industries. On the other hand the Labour Party expose the monopolies in cement and sugar but advocate nationalisation and support its child, the co-operative. At election times he runs from one party to the other, completely lost.

Then he met an organisation that told him his kind was doomed, not by the political “right” or “left,” but by the very conditions of the capitalist system. That was the Socialist Party of Great Britain.

Consider the small trader. Is he a capitalist? He owns a microscopic portion of the means of distribution: Yet he is unable to live without working. Indeed, to avoid the direct supervision of a foreman or boss he works a darned sight harder than the normal worker. He is respected too. Unless he orders so-and-so from a firm they will not sell him this or that. If he deals with one firm another will not supply him with a different variety of the same ware. In other words, the goods he sells are dictated to him by someone far more powerful than himself. As a result he is no more than a glorified salesman working without a basic salary but for a hard-earned commission in the form of a narrow margin of profit upon the goods he sells. To all intents and purposes he is a member of the working class.

The decline of his kind has been a gradual but steady process. In the field of production as well as distribution thousands of small businesses have been killed by competition. One firm introduces a new technique of production. The cost of production falls and with it the price of the commodity concerned. Rival concerns must either do likewise of perish, and as through the years the competition has grown more intense, many have either fallen by the wayside or been devoured by the larger concerns. Still the process continues. The “little man” may fight but the relentless juggernaut of the system which forces capital to concentrate in fewer and fewer hands will beat him in the end.

His answer lies, like that of every other worker, in the establishment of Socialism where there will be no businesses, large or small, but production for the satisfaction of human needs.


(Socialist Standard, May 1950)

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