There is a crack in Walmart’s anti-union wall. There were demonstrations by workers and their supporters at more than 1000 Walmart stores on Black Friday. Walmart workers have taken the first step, raising awareness; in state after state Walmart workers have been informed of their rights and shown that they are not alone.
This is a huge breakthrough for Walmart workers. Walmart has been viciously anti-union and is known for intimidation and retaliation. And of course, exploitation of workers and suppliers. The fact that there were 100 stores affected (with more than 1000 demonstrations in support) cracks open the anti-union wall, empowering workers to take further steps.
Josh Eidelson, in With Biggest Strike Against Biggest Employer, Walmart Workers Make History Again at The Nation, writes,
For about twenty-four hours, Walmart workers, union members and a slew of other activists pulled off the largest-ever US strike against the largest employer in the world. According to organizers, strikes hit a hundred US cities, with hundreds of retail workers walking off the job (last month‘s strikes drew 160). Organizers say they also hit their goal of a thousand total protests, with all but four states holding at least one. In the process, they notched a further escalation against the corporation that’s done more than any other to frustrate the ambitions and undermine the achievements of organized labor in the United States.
“I’m so happy that this is history, that my grandkids can learn from this to stand up for themselves,” Miami striker Elaine Rozier told The Nation Thursday night. Before, “I always used to sit back and not say anything…. I’m proud of myself tonight.”
Walmart Business Model Leads To Fabulous Wealth For A Few
Walmart pioneered a predatory business model that is stripping America of its middle class, while enriching a very few. The elements of this model are vicious intimidation and suppression of worker rights, abusing size to squash competitors and squeeze suppliers, and using wealth and power to capture government entities and get the rules shifted to further their interests over the public interest.
Walmart and other giants move into a community (often squeezing tax breaks out of local governments,) undercut the prices of the local businesses to put them out of business, take advantage of high unemployment to pay minimum wages, and then ship the profits away to a few billionaires. They use their massive size to squeeze their suppliers as well. They move manufacturing out to “business-friendly” countries where people have no say and can’t say they want decent jobs and wages and hours and safety.
One result of this business model: Wal-Mart heirs worth as much as bottom 41.5% of American families (LA Times),
The Walton family, heirs to the founders of the Wal-Mart Stores Inc. superchain, are worth nearly as much as the bottom half of American households combined.
The Waltons’ value — $89.5 billion in 2010 – is equal to the worth of the 41.5% of families at the lower end of the income ladder, according to an analysis by Josh Bivens of the Economic Policy Institute. That comes out to 48.8 million households.
Wages So Low They Get Government Assistance
Walmart pays so little that their employees qualify for government assistance. Walmart employees get Food Stamps, Medicaid and other support from taxpayers, while lobbying to keep minimum wages low. (Conservatives complain about how many people are receiving government help, and complain that Walmart workers are trying to do something about it.)
In many states Walmart employees make up most of the state’s Medicaid recipients. Good Jobs First, in Hidden Taxpayer Costs, lists the taxpayer costs of Walmart’s low wages in state after state. For example, in Alabama Walmart employees had 4,700 children in the state’s Medicaid program. Arkansas had 3,971 Walmart employees and families on public assistance, mostly Medicaid. Skip to Tennessee with 9,617 on TennCare. Click through for more. (All numbers appear to be 2005.)
From Current’s The Young Turks segment, Wal-Mart worker on why she’ll protest after 3 years as a manager: ‘I’m just not making a decent living’:
(If not visible here, click through to see video)
Guest co-hosts Michael “Epic Politics Man” Shure, Michael Hastings (BuzzFeed and “Rolling Stone”) and Brown University professor Tricia Rose talk to Wal-Mart manager Sara Gilbert about why after three years on the job she’ll join other workers in protesting the mega-chain on Black Friday.
“I’m just not making a decent living,” Gilbert says. “I do have to get subsidized help from the government, which is not something that I like to brag about, but unfortunately that’s the way it is, working for Wal-Mart.”
Here is Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) on The Young Turks Monday evening, talking about his participation in one Walmart Black Friday action:
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Cenk talks to Florida Rep.-Elect Alan Grayson (D) about his support of Wal-Mart workers who walked out or protested on Thanksgiving and Black Friday. Grayson says, “Wal-Mart could give every single employee it’s got, even the CEO, a 30 percent raise, and Wal-Mart would still be profitable.” Because so many employees earn so little, they often receive housing, food and other government assistance to make ends meet. Grayson says, “I don’t think Wal-Mart should in effect be the largest recipient of public aid in the country. Taxpayers shouldn’t have to bear that burden.”
Non-US Supply Chain Undermines Benefits Of Our Democracy
It costs less to manufacture in “business-friendly” places where people don’t have a say, humanity counts for nothing and profit is king.
In places where people have a say they say they want safe working conditions, good wages, health care, retirement and things to make their lives better. In “business-friendly” places where people do not have a say they are told they can’t have worker safety, time off, good wages, etc.
A terrible fire at a Walmart garment supplier in Bangladesh hilites the dangers to workers in places where working people have little power. NY Times:
More than 100 people died Saturday and Sunday in a fire at a garment factory outside Dhaka, Bangladesh, in one of the worst industrial tragedies in that country.
… Bangladesh’s garment industry, the second-largest exporter of clothing after China, has a notoriously poor fire safety record. Since 2006, more than 500 Bangladeshi workers have died in factory fires, according to Clean Clothes Campaign, an anti-sweatshop advocacy group in Amsterdam. Experts say many of the fires could have easily been avoided if the factories had taken the right precautions. Many factories are in cramped neighborhoods and have too few fire escapes, and they widely flout safety measures. The industry employs more than three million workers in Bangladesh, most of them women.
This is just one very recent example of what happens to workers in “business-friendly” countries where people are easily exploited. For example, you read about Chinese coal mine deaths, like this and this (they are down to 2400 a year from 4700 a few years ago) and suicides at electronics manfacturers.
Walmart Only Following The Rules — That Walmart Makes
Walmart follows the rules. Walmart is paying the lowest wages our government allows them to get away with paying. They pay the lowest taxes our government lets them get away with paying.
The problem with this is that Walmart is able to use its immense size and power to set the rules. Walmart and other wealthy and powerful interests have “captured” our government.
Examples ripped from the healines: (well, actually just the headlines)
- Wal-Mart took part in lobbying campaign to amend anti-bribery law
- Walmart, Target And Other Big Retailers Lobbied Successfully For Exemption From SEC Conflict Mineral Rule
And some big ones:
- The inheritance tax: In SPENDING MILLIONS TO SAVE BILLIONS, The Campaign of the Super Wealthy to Kill the Estate Tax. The study shows how the Walton family was one of just 18 families that financed the successful effort to repeal the estate tax.
- Demos: NOT MADE IN AMERICA: TOP 10 WAYS WALMART DESTROYS US MANUFACTURING JOBS,
According to the non-profit Center for Responsive Politics, Walmart spent $7.8 million on lobbying in 2011 alone.[xvi] While this money was paid to influence a range of legislation, from promoting corporate tax cuts to opposing a bill to guarantee paid sick time to working people, trade policy was among the issues Walmart lobbied on most aggressively. In fact, Walmart has lobbied to make it easier to push American jobs out of the country for years, playing a key role in in lobbying for NAFTA in the early 1990s.[xvii]
Walmart pioneered and perfected the business model that is stripping the middle class. But it is not alone. The real problem is that We, the People have lost control of our power to make the laws that keeps the Walmarts and the Staples and the Waltons and the Romneys and the other plutocrats from stripping us of everything to line their own pockets.
The workers at Walmart have taken the first step. Some have stood up to the immense power of Walmart. This is a crack in the Walmart wall, a crack that can widen and eventually change our economy.
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