Every day we are fed a steady diet of advertising; on TV, in newspapers, on billboards & signs in our streets and junk mail through our letterboxes. We can't get away from it. The adverts promise happiness, love & freedom if only we buy this shampoo or that car... these trainers or that burger. Few of us believe the adverts, but somehow we still get sucked in to buying this stuff. Sometimes the promise works, briefly, and we do feel happier, for a moment or maybe even a few days, but do we ever stop to think about why we needed cheering up/felt miserable in the first place?... Because we spend so much of our lives engaged in a daily grind, working for bosses and companies - or struggling to survive on benefits, and so little on what we're interested in.
In this society there are few of us who have any real control over our lives. Most of us are constantly in debt either to a landlord, or to a bank in order to keep a roof over our heads. The vast majority of land and resources in this country are controlled by a tiny but powerful elite of rich individual and companies, so if we want food and fuel etc we have to buy it. All in all we seem to have little choice other than to work for them in order to keep ourselves housed, fed and clothed. They've got us over a barrel.
In these circumstances it's little wonder that many of us are stressed out, fed up and feel the need to escape. Corporations offer more shopping as the answer, and tell us that there's now more choice than ever before, as if more products and more choice were automatically a good thing. But who really benefits? Certainly the companies do, as their profits keep rolling in, and we are trapped into working yet more hours for them in order to pay for the latest purchase. But for us it means more time working, and also more of our lives spent agonising over which products to buy, as if it really makes any difference to our lives.
...Meanwhile, as well as the cost to ourselves, there's a high price being paid by manufacturing workers worldwide and by the planet we live on as precious resources are used for unnecessary goods.
THE COST TO WORKERS WORLDWIDEWork in the manufacturing industry is generally low paid, boring and repetitive. Increasingly goods are being manufactured overseas in 'developing' countries as transnational corporations seek to increase profits through lower labour costs. There conditions are even worse for workers, with little or no health and safety provision, frequent violations of workers rights, extremely low or infrequent wages, long hours and compulsory overtime - often unpaid. Child labour is not uncommon. Some factories operate extremely harsh rules to improve productivity, such as punishments for talking. Efforts by workers to organise themselves into unions are usually strenuously opposed and can lead to sackings. Typically, companies move on to new countries when workers do become organised and demand higher standards and better pay. When the companies move workers are dropped as though they were just spare parts for a machine and local people are often left with a polluted environment.
THE COST TO THE ENVIRONMENTThis planet cannot sustain anything like the current levels of consumption in the western world. Even the United Nations is warning that time is running out to stop worldwide environmental damage and says it is already too late to prevent irreversible harm to ecosystems such as tropical forests. Their recent report says that the developed world must cut its use of natural resources by 90% to give the rest of the world a chance of emerging from poverty. Its key finding is that "The continued poverty of the majority of the planet's inhabitants and excessive consumption by the minority are the two major causes of environmental degradation. The present course is unsustainable, and postponing action is no longer an option." Water shortage and global warming are identified as the world's two most worrying problems and it reports that if present levels of consumption continue, two out of every three persons on Earth will live in water-stressed conditions by the year 2025.
WHAT CAN WE DO?Talk to friends, neighbours and workmates about these issues. When you're out shopping - QUESTION - Do I really need it? Could I make one? Could I re-use, repair or recycle what I already have? Could I share one with someone else? How many hours will I have to work to pay for it? What else could I spend that time doing? If we want to create real freedom and happiness for ourselves and a decent environment to live in we need to start challenging the constant messages thrown at us by those who are presently in control and who don't have our interests at heart. They've got us into this mess and they're hardly likely to get us out. We need to regain control of our own lives, and communities, creating a new society. We need to regain control of the land, workplaces and streets and to decide together what we produce and how. Work and wealth would be shared in such a society, one based on co-operation between people, and between people and the rest of nature.
Enough (anti-consumerism campaign), One World Centre, 6 Mount Street, Manchester, M2. www.enviroweb.org/issues/enough
Corporate Watch:; Tel. 01865 791 391 www.corporatewatch.org
Leaflet produced by London Greenpeace, 5 Caledonian Road, London, N1 9DX. Tel 020 7713 1269. Meetings Thursday 7pm at above address.