Wal-Mart Whores

I was recently attacked in an email sent by a “friend” because I simply couldn’t bring myself to apply for a grant from Wal-Mart Foundation.  Don’t get me wrong, our project could certainly use an infusion of a cool million like that bestowed on Growing Power a year ago.  I started the on-line form but I just couldn’t continue.  My fingers started to ache and my palms burned.  Was it Daniel Webster who made that fateful deal with “he who shall not be named”?  I know Faust had a similar deal. The burning sensation in my hands snapped me out of dollar sign eyes.

In less than a week another friend suggested we go you-know-where to get an air conditioner for a friend.  My hackles went up and I simply could not restrain myself from practically screeching.  At least this friend asked me why I was vociferous in my refusal to shop with Satan.  When I finished sending him websites to peruse, he got the point.  The same was true of another very intelligent and charming woman who espoused her love of that place until I told her about the young women sewing interminable hours with no breaks in sweat shops so she could spend less for a tee shirt.  The look on her face when she came to the realization that this amounted to slavery was worth a million bucks to me.

Believe me; I’ve heard it all about how Wal-Mart creates jobs in communities starving for employment.  I also know the dark side, and it ain’t worth the deal.  Just this morning one of my very socially conscious colleagues came to me with a look of shock on her face.  “Did you see this article on the internet about Wal-Mart signing a deal to build in Bronzeville?”  I calmly told her I had known about this for some time and was not happy about it.  The look of disbelief only got more, well…disbelieving when I explained that the site in the article (47th Street) is in addition to a proposed site at 39th Street.  Her comment, “They just want all our money!” That’s about the size of it.  That is corporate progress; own it all; corner the market; drive competition away.  Seriously, who can compete with Wal-Mart?

The answer is EVERYBODY! I’m heading to the public library to get a copy of the “Art of War”.  Big armies with loads of paraphernalia have been trounced by little bands of guerilla warriors over and over in history.  This is war.  When MacArthur Genius winners like Will Allen have to espouse support of Wal-Mart, it’s just the harbinger of Wal-Mart swallowing organic growers everywhere and selling us crap crops labeled organic.  After all, Wal-Mart execs are in the seats of government to list their sprays, insecticides, pesticides, seeds, etc.  safe and saleable to us poor schnooks out here - we uninformed masses who want to save two bucks on a tee shirt even if it was made in a sweat shop.  I especially have a hard time with us people of color who choose to spend our hard earned bucks there.  Just a scant few years ago we were bending our backs picking cotton under the whip and yearning to be free.  Why?  So we could support slavery in another part of the world?

What about the woman who is trying to save money to take care of her family?  Has she looked at the Wal-Mart track record when it comes to hiring and advancing women?  It’s deplorable.

A few hundred Los Angelinos took to the street in protest; Wal-Mart employees meant more people needing public medical care.  Wal-Mart doesn’t provide health care and encourages workers to get public assistance.  That certainly puts more money in investors’ pockets.

Wal-Mart has pledged to have more minority vendors.  They haven’t even come close to reaching a tenth of the stated goal.  As to the few that make it on the vendor list, they often get their products shelved in very inconspicuous spaces and only in minority area stores.  Which brings me back to the Wal-Mart coming to a neighborhood near you, if you are a vendor maybe your product can make it to a shelf?  Frankly I’ve got other ideas.  If you have products get together with movements all over this country to compete.  Read the “Art of War”.  Join the fight!  History proves over and over that resistance is not futile!

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  • Have you ever asked yourself why Walmart is so successful? It's because they provide a great solution for consumers and people seeking work. Economics 101: if you offer something that people want they will take it.

    You can pretend that you know what's best for the country and your neighborhood but in the end it's the common people that decide with their feet and their wallets and they have spoken.

    And BTW, Walmart has done more to advance supply chain management in this country than anyone else ever. They have driven costs way down for the average American. We are a much better country because of companies like Walmart. They should be commended for what they have accomplished, not vilified.

  • In reply to Gary Lucido:

    This is what I expect from you. First of all you are not a minority, person of color and your ancestors (recent enough I might add) were not enslaved. When I talk to many people about the things that go on with Wal-Mart and how they keep prices low, they are shocked. The reason Wal-Mart and so many other huge, monstrous corporations are "successful" is because of their practices and the fact that too few consumers are aware of those facts.

  • In reply to Danie:

    This is what I expect from you. What in the hell does the color of my skin and slavery have to do with Walmart?

    So what exactly are Walmart's practices that you find so deplorable? I would imagine that their employees and suppliers exactly know about their practices and yet they freely choose to work with them.

  • In reply to Danie:

    I reread your original post to figure out what you were talking about and I see the connection now. I find it offensive that you bring up my skin color as if that somehow makes me unable to comprehend the horrors of slavery. If I accused you of unable to relate to certain concepts because you were black I have no doubt you'd be crying racism.

    Anyway, I don't think there is any reliable data on exactly what percent of the world's labor force, working on Walmart products, is working in "sweatshop conditions" vs. what percent of the world's labor force in general works in those same conditions. If 5% of the world's workforce works in poor conditions and 5% of Walmart's suppliers have sweatshop conditions then Walmart can't be blamed for doing anything out of the ordinary.

    More importantly, what people like you don't understand is that workers in poor countries are not stupid. They freely choose to work in whatever conditions make sense and at whatever wage makes sense to them because it is better than the alternative. That's why it's not slavery. These working conditions are the logical first step in a population's progression out of poverty. Look at China. Wages are skyrocketing now that they've been at it a while. If you are expecting someone to waltz into a 3rd world country and make their entire population doctors, lawyers, and investment bankers overnight then you truly are delusional.

  • If you think the process of forcing people to work 16 to 20 hour days with no time off and very little pay is OK, you do it. Perhaps if it is the only way to feed your family, even if it is just enough to keep them alive you would consider it. I don't think you would choose it willingly if there were other options. And no, everyone doesn't need to be doctors or lawyers and God forbid investment bankers. Just look at the mess they created.

    But there are other ways to employ people and allow a quality of life with some dignity. Look at the growing number of workers' cooperatives and social enterprises attempting to do just that. Those companies are still based on capitalism but with a sense of justice and not just profits for the few at the expense of the many.

    Supposedly this country was to be an answer to indentured slavery but of course that was for Europeans. When it came to shipping millions of Africans to this continent to be slaves that was, of course a different matter.
    As to China, the history of human rights violations is astronomical. Just a few hours ago the VOA announced China is promising 20 billion dollars in grants to Africa. Is this a humanitarian gesture? No way! Africa is rich in natural resources. The Chinese are masters of long range planning. If they had to starve, maim, enslave their poor to get to the place where they could put in a bid of 20 billion to increase their stronghold on the continent of Africa, well that's the way the fortune cookie crumbles.

    Is it right? Is it just? Is it Machiavellian? I think some of those people working in sweatshops and foraging through electronic waste heaps wouldn't say they freely chose to do so.

  • In reply to Danie:

    These people are being "forced" to work? I seriously doubt that. Unless people are being held at gunpoint or being physically restrained they are not being forced to do anything. They are freely choosing the less bad of two alternatives. As I've mentioned these jobs are the logical first step to a society progressing out of poverty.

    China is a huge success story and their people are becoming hugely wealthy and wages are skyrocketing. But they had to start out at a much lower level.

    You live in a fantasy land where companies exist for the purpose of providing people with what you consider dignified jobs. That's not the way the world works. Companies exist to make profits. If they don't they don't survive and then there are no jobs. You're not going to launch a 3rd world country out of poverty with worker's cooperatives. China tried that and it wasn't until they abandoned it that they really became an economic powerhouse.

  • Well, I'm glad I'm not living in that fantasy land alone, Evergreen Cooperative in Ohio, Mondragon Cooperative in Spain. There is even an entire organization of us fantasy dwellers who think the world can improve and grow with a little less corporate greed and a lot more planet need. http://www.usworker.coop/front

  • In reply to Danie:

    You may not be alone in fantasyland but it's a pretty small population. And for good reason. The economic model just doesn't work. You might find this NPR story to be of interest:

    It describes how the cooperative system of China was failing for all the reasons you would expect it to fail and as soon as they abandoned it in favor of capitalism they began to thrive. Capitalism is the predominant model for a good reason: it works!

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    In reply to Gary Lucido:

    I wasn't exactly sure at what point I needed to correct your assumptions -- unfortunately, there were too many to choose from. I decided on your rather interesting ideas about Chinese labor because they are the most fun for me to write about.

    China's economy is not modeled on free market capitalism, and never has been. At best, the system can be described as "state capitalism," i.e. it permits some personal ownership and private business. What the Chinese government DOESN'T tell us is that the banks are all government-owned, and by extension, the money in them. I lived in China a few years ago, and I had all my money transferred to American banks for this reason. Property is ultimately owned by the government even if individuals have bought it: this is how many people have been displaced from their homes on a moment's notice. The system is still effectively "socialist," although as a socialist myself, I would argue it is totalitarian in nature.

    China's economy followed a similar trajectory to other East Asian countries about 30-40 years before: Japan experienced an economic boom as a result of MANUFACTURING (read: cheap labor). Korea followed soon after, and were it not for Mao's cultural revolution, China would have been right there with them. Japan and Korea's economies have slowed as labor costs rose and said countries could not produce cheap goods anymore. China's economy is now slowing down at an alarming rate as the quality of life there improves: workers are not willing to receive pennies for long hours of labor that produced all the cheap crap you so admire at Wal-Mart. As a result, companies are moving to OTHER parts of Asia, in particular Vietnam, and the cycle is starting all over again.

    I ask you: how exactly is a short-term, state-controlled model for an economy "capitalist" or even "successful"? The "success" you describe in China is only such from your rather self-involved point of view. You get cheap stuff from Wal-Mart, so China is "successful."

    The story is much more complex. Go read about it before posting. It's embarrassing to see yet another ignorant American extol the virtues of capitalism without having a clue as to what he is talking about.

  • In reply to Pilar Quezzaire:

    I don't believe China's model of central planning is good. In fact, I think it's starting to break down because governments can't get it right. China has misallocated a lot of resources on building infrastructure that won't pay off. I've reduced my stake in China and will reduce it further for these reasons.

    The success in China I'm talking about is their success at raising the standard of living and the wealth of the country. They had to back away from their extreme form of communism to get there.

    Maybe we should do a tally of all the socialist experiments that failed and succeeded (without the benefit of a huge wealth of natural resources). I think the scale would tip heavily away from socialism.

    Calling me ignorant without providing much of evidence of that is pretty ignorant on your part.

  • In reply to Danie:

    Darn ChicagoNow system wouldn't let me put HTML in the body so here is the link in text format: http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2012/01/20/145360447/the-secret-document-that-transformed-china

  • Are you happy that your tax dollars are subsidizing those low, low prices? It's a common saying among employees that Walmart workers need three cards to get by: Their employee discount card, their Medicaid card and their LINK card. Over half their employees are so underpaid they depend on public assistance even if they are working 16 hours shifts (carefully shceduled so no one qualifies for overtime or a mythical company insurance plan). Even "Managers" at local stores are paid a princely sum of $9/hour. And how lucky that the WalMart they work at will also accept their LINK and Medicaid prescriptions. Just like the old song about working conditions we thought went away in the 1900s: "St. Peter don't call me 'cause I can't go! I owe my soul to the company store."

  • In reply to Mark McDermott:

    I'd like to see some reliable data to support what you are saying. There is a lot of mythology out there about Walmart. But even if it were true at least it would mean that their employees are living better than if they didn't have any job at all - and they are actually contributing to society.

    It seems that all the Walmart haters believe that when Walmart hires someone they destroy that person's original job and make that person work for less money. Of course that's nonsense. These people would be unemployed if they didn't have these jobs.

    All you have to do is look at the thousands of people that get in line for Walmart jobs to know that they believe that Walmart is offering them a better life - and it's their vote that really matters.

  • Since you love to hate Walmart so much I'm sure you never read stories like this: http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/HurricaneRita/story?id=1171087&page=1#.UJA-xobleSp

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