TCS Daily


Shop Til You Drop

By Kamila Pajer - September 9, 2004 12:00 AM

"The last time I have seen such queues was in the communist era in Poland," said my friend about the line she has to wait in every Saturday in German supermarkets. She goes shopping, like most working people, at the end of the week, and because stores in Germany are closed on Sundays, she is forced to shop on Saturdays and waste her time in the queues. Every time she comes to Poland, where she can go shopping whenever she wants to, she says how lucky we are.

Fifteen years ago endless queues were a common situation in communist Poland. People lined up for hours to buy anything. Fortunately, communism ended and the queues disappeared with it. But the situation may change soon and the communist experience will suddenly be revived as we are suffering a "Radom Epidemic" in Poland. A new disease is spreading from city to city -- a "no trade on Sunday" policy "because people should rest". The authors of the policy -- the League of Polish Families party (LPF) and Solidarity trade union -- already promise that this month is going to be the culmination of their actions.

It all started in mid-August in Radom, a town of about 200,000 in central Poland, when one alderman's proposition to restrict the freedom to trade was accepted and passed by the city council. The author of the rule argued that many women come to his office complaining that they are forced to work in the supermarkets on Sundays. Now, similar propositions are being discussed in most of the cities in the country. In some -- like Gdansk and Bialystok -- the proposition has been declined; in others -- like Warsaw -- it might be discussed later if the poll shows that citizens consider open shops on Sundays a problem. Still, in many other cities the proposition is still being considered.

The authors of the rule argue that supermarkets should be closed on Sundays and small shops should be allowed to remain open. Why? Because big supermarkets belong to foreign companies and small shops are owned by Polish. So LPF and Solidarity want to forbid trade on Sunday only for the big shops that, in their opinion, are already "rich enough". They believe if the big shops were closed the customers would go to small Polish shops, where they would pay more (as the goods in small shops are usually more expensive than in supermarkets) but the money would enrich Polish people. Never mind that this will make Polish customers poorer.

Another argument the rule's authors raise is that if supermarkets were closed on Sundays there would be more small Polish shops established. However the Austrian and German experience proves this theory wrong.

In the Czech Republic the shops are open every day and there are no plans to change the law, especially since on Sunday many Austrians and Germans come across the border to shop. The results of the Czech Trade Union studies on Sunday trading restrictions in Austria and Germany prove that in the big cities where there are no shops open on Sunday, small stores are not established even though customers admit they would be willing to shop there.

Many Germans also shop in Poland on Sunday and we should be glad that they come here and leave their money. Unfortunately, some politicians are not. The LPF and Solidarity believe state knows best. They say that people can shop on other days of the week, ignoring the fact that the customers' behavior proves otherwise.

The LPF and Solidarity argue also that workers -- mainly women -- should be allowed to rest and spend Sunday with their families. Arguing that customers are should be free to choose themselves if they want to go shopping or take a walk in the park convinces neither LPF nor Solidarity, because they just know better. And this belief is the legacy of communism, the system in which some people were persuaded they know what is good for others and so are predestined to regulate their lives.

Politicians frequently forget that they are elected not to think for people but to serve them. Instead, they try to organize our lives in the way they prefer. Some 30 years ago a Polish communist politician was asked why people have to work on Saturdays. He explained that if they did not work, they would have nothing else to do, because the state does not have any idea how to organize their time in the proper way. Today, LPF and Solidarity know how to plan our free time.

The state-control advocates believe also in a Marxist war between classes -- the workers are one and the employers another and they are enemies. Employers force people to work and they should instead set them free. And the latter wish is likely to come true, as the supermarket managers in Radom already assume that some 10 to 15 percent of workers will be made redundant because of the new rule. In a city with one of the highest unemployment rates in Poland, about 30 percent, this is not good news.


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