Recently, we bought a new microwave cooker from a well-known British high street store. I am being deliberately coy about which one, because I don’t know how libel laws work!
We moved house this summer, and wanted to replace our old rusty model, with something new, which worked.
The store arranged that they would deliver the new microwave to our house, and take away the old one in exchange for us.
The trouble was they delivered it to our old house, where (for complicated reasons) we had decorators in, before handing it over to new tenants.
Our builders told the delivery guy that they couldn’t take it, because we hadn’t given them any instructions to do so – we were, obviously, expecting it to arrive at our new address.
However, the deliverer didn’t accept this and, giving my contractor the finger, proceeded to deposit the new microwave and cart off the old one.
Well, besides the rudeness, what was the problem, you may ask? Could we not just drive and collect the new microwave?
Difficulty was that it was the wrong model. We had ordered a free-standing microwave, and they delivered one for a fitted kitchen.
What distinguishes my little anecdote from the usual run of disgruntled consumer rants about poor customer service, is how this tale connects with the wider practices of contemporary capitalism.
Things got interesting when we tried to complain and sort the problem out. The customer service department explained to us the realities of post-modern economics.
They used a separate delivery company and so could not be held accountable for any dissatisfaction we might with the service.
Then, when we contacted the delivery company, they enlightened us further, telling us that they too employed another intermediary, the classic “man-with-a-van”, to actually carry out deliveries.
Consequently, they too could not be held accountable for what happened.
And we couldn’t get our old microwave back, because that was passed on for recycling. Nor could we get a new one.
It reminded me of an incident, when our children were little, during a family holiday in France. Our car broke down, and we left it with a local mechanic, which was a dealer for our brand of car.
The car was not fixed by the end of our holiday, and they assured us they would return our car to Britain, paid by our travel insurance.
And they did so. But conveyed on a transporter, with the engine in pieces, in cardboard boxes, in the trunk.
When we complained, we discovered that, despite having the same name, the French and British companies were distinct legal entities.
Consequently, they carried no responsibilities for each other’s mistakes. In the maze of international globalised late capitalism, a separation of powers gave them freedom of action.
My little stories merely exemplify the plight of capitalism’s more serious victims. Dysfunctional confusion proves to be functionalised unaccountability.
Eschewing responsibility, like a stack of Russian dolls, each company fits within the other, but allowing no court of appeal.