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Sign of the times – people care: a reader writes

8 September 2023

Demonstrating against ULEZ February 2023, Trafalgar Square, London. Photo Loredana Sangiuliano / Shutterstock.

We received this letter from a Workers reader in east London about a recent shopping trip. Although it was a novel experience, this may be happening around Britain more often than we realise. The challenge is how not let this go to waste – to act and not just grumble.

“No doubt you’ll be bemused about why I should want to communicate about this morning’s trip to a supermarket, but it was totally without precedent in my experience. And worth analysing, to my mind.

“I’d driven to a local supermarket instead of normal online deliveries. I did my shop and went with my trolley to the checkout and was initially pleased because two tills had checkout workers. That was an improvement on my last visit when none were manned. And that day there were hardly any staff in evidence either, a bit Marie Celeste.


“So I joined a fairly long queue of shoppers with trolley loads. And here it happened. The people behind me started talking. They were all white British if that is of relevance, and I think it may well be.

“They began complaining about the lack of staff in the shop. And then the appalling levels of shoplifting that we as customers all pay for and the lack of response by the shop and police to the problem.

Corrupt politicians

“Then the feeling was expressed that the supermarket doesn’t care about shoppers in our type of area but focuses on wealthier areas. Then conversation leapt to the bankruptcy of Birmingham and a diatribe ensued about corrupt politicians locally and nationally, and I suppose the general idea that we're going to the dogs as a country.

“And then how Birmingham city centre had been ruined by planners and by pedestrianisation so much that nobody felt safe to frequent these areas in the evening when there was no flow of traffic and people were not present and there was no sense of safety and everything was dominated by shadows and shuttered shops.

No purpose

“And how nobody went to Ilford anymore because of that same problem. Then the talk turned to the ULEZ and many anti car road schemes that seemed to serve no purpose except to complicate matters. At that point I had to store my goods away and pay.

“People care about many things, they distrust and despise the system.”

“I cannot describe to you the idea conveyed by these people of pent-up emotions bursting forth and dissatisfaction boiling over. I’ve never witnessed such stuff while shopping before. I didn’t find it depressing at all; it was heart-lifting. People care about so many things and they distrust and despise the system.

“I don’t know why, but the incident made me think of a detail from a book I read decades ago. When Lenin was travelling in disguise and incognito on a bus a few days prior to the October Revolution. The bus conductress expressed her surprise at his bumbling questions and told him, “Where have you been? Don't you know there's going to be a revolution in the next few days!”

“I’m not suggesting I’m Lenin. Rather, that there are subterranean emotions and forces forming out of sight of the capitalist veneer and establishment sponsored view of life in Britain. It’s those voices we need to listen to.”