From Socialist Voice, January 2005

IKEA: more multinational penetration

The nation has been on tenterhooks, if we are to believe the establishment media, waiting for the Government’s decision to change the planning laws restricting the size of retail outlets in order to accommodate the Swedish transnational IKEA in setting up a retail outlet in Ireland.
     Since 2001, the maximum floor area of any retail outlet has been limited to 6,000 square metres. In future there will be no upper limit. We had dire warnings from all sides that if IKEA didn’t come to Dublin it would go north of the border, and that would be the end of the world as we know it.
     Ireland used to have a very good furniture manufacturing and design industry, before we joined the EEC. It now lies in ruins, with only a few manufacturers left. You can get tables and chairs from China, no doubt made in factories run by the People’s Army or made by some offshore island manufacturer in the China Sea or, if you’re really lucky, in some sweatshop in Indonesia or India.
     So from now on we will all have the pleasure of shopping in an ever-increasing number of superstores, including such American giants as Costco Warehouse and Wal-Mart and such British giants as B&Q. No doubt they will be staffed by workers on the minimum wage, with flexible hours and unable to organise in a trade union, and no doubt the majority will be foreign, mainly Chinese or eastern European.
     Young Irish furniture designers will have to go abroad to develop their talents, or cater for the well off, who wouldn’t be caught dead in a flat-pack shop. So we will have greater homogenisation, and every home will soon look and feel the same. The small furniture, hardware and DIY shops will slowly disappear, and we will end up like the neighbouring island: towns with little to offer except bargain basement and charity shops.
     We can all now participate in and be beneficiaries of the global exploitation of workers in poor countries, and thank God we live in Europe, the home of civilisation and all things good and nice.
     The demand for cheap furniture requires that someone pays the price, in the form of low wages and harsh working conditions. Whatever is left of Irish furniture manufacturing will go to the wall, unless wages and conditions can be forced down to compete with countries where workers have few if any rights. This is the reality of global capitalism: workers in developed capitalist countries—already under pressure, working long hours on wages that will only stretch so far—flocking to superstores in the endless and unsatisfiable demand of consumerism.

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