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Last month, activists from animal-rights organization Direct Action Everywhere occupied a Greggs store in Brighton – demanding ‘animal liberation not sausage rolls’.
Dressed in pig masks and smeared in blood – an attempt at raising ‘awareness of prolific animal cruelty’ – protestors filled the bakery holding signs that read ‘it’s not food, it’s violence’ while chanting “What do we want? Animal liberation! When do we want it? Now!”
However true the message may be, the effectiveness of these demonstrations are questionable, and it’s undeniable that they’re going to backfire on the working class.
Greggs pays its Sales Assistant’s £7.57 per hour. Working full-time hours (37.5 a week) at the store would generate an annual salary less than £15,000 – a take-home gross income of £13,580.88 after tax and national insurance.
On the brink of minimum wage: these workers simply do not have a say in what products the company sells. They cannot bring about change and they cannot force Greggs to go vegan (even if they really, really, wanted them to).
And yet, it is these workers who have the responsibility to defuse the demonstration, who will have to deal with the brunt of customer complaints, and face the reverberations of the store’s sales being down for the day.
While the people at the top of the company sit comfortably in their offices, unscathed by the demonstration and spewing out disciplinaries to its employees for not dealing with the commotion efficiently enough.
CEO of the company, Roger Whiteside declined to reveal his salary when joining Greggs but was reported to have earned around £706,000 in his last job at pub-chain Punch Taverns.
Earning nearly 50 times the amount of his workers – Whiteside should be the target of our activism. Because if we want to overthrow capitalism, it shouldn’t be at the expense of those suffering under it.
Similarly, environmental organization Greenpeace covered a Sainsbury’s store in Salford with a sticker saying “Sainsbury’s couldn’t care less,” in regards to how much single-use plastic the company uses.
Again – the message might be true – there’s no denying that.
But the person whose job is to now peel the sticker off and clean the window will most likely be somebody on living wage. Perhaps a sixteen-year-old student whose working to pay for their tuition fees, or a single mother providing for her children. Not the CEO. Not the people in charge of packaging. Not the people that can actually make a change.
It is clear these demonstrations come from a good place, but the message gets lost in translation when it backfires on innocent people. Demonstrations such as these are loaded with privilege because what we need to do, is protect the working class, and target those at the top.
If you want to spread the vegan message – there are still a variety of ways to do so. Buying vegan products, refraining from eating animal-products, signing online petitions, volunteering at local animal shelters, educating your friends and family on the horror of animal agriculture, pressuring your local council or MP into making change, donating to vegan start-ups or animal charities or creating fundraisers, the list goes on (and on).