The Thinker

Wal-Mart and Unions

When is a union good for Wal-Mart? Apparently only when they are in communist countries like China. And Wal-Mart is okay with it. Why shouldn’t they be? Because this “union” is no union. Instead it is run by the All-China Federation, which is directly controlled by the Chinese Communist Party. Yeah, I know at one time communism was about liberating the masses from oppressive capitalists. But no longer. Chinese taxi drivers, for example, routinely work 15 hours days trying to make a living. They too are protected by the All-China Federation. In other words, workers in these “unions” have zero control and no influence over their union, their working conditions and their wages. In fact the unions exist solely to serve the purpose of the state. And if Chinese unionized workers are unwise enough to actually speak up and complain about their wages and working conditions, they will most likely be booted out of the union and their job too. Clearly these are not unions. So naturally “unions” in China and Wal-Mart are a natural fit. What could be more natural for Wal-Mart than cheap and plentiful workers forced to work long hours at starvation wages?

When is a union not good for Wal-Mart? Whenever a union acts like a real union, and demands a decent wage and some say in their working conditions. When this happens we see the real Wal-Mart in action. For example, in Jonquiere, Quebec the local Wal-Mart is going to close in May as a result of reputed “unreasonable demands” from the union leaders. What was unreasonable here was apparently the expectation that Wal-Mart would bargain in good faith. But this is but the latest example. Whenever a real union wins clout Wal-Mart refuses to deal. It will shut this store but not because it will lose money. Better to nip this union thing in the bud, is how Wal-Mart executives view it, before it spreads like a cancer. Wal-Mart workers need to feel that unionization is hopeless.

Wal-Mart will take the most extraordinary means to ensure unions cannot take hold in their company. For example, in 2000 the meatcutters at its Jacksonville, Texas store voted to join the United Food & Commercial Workers Union. Wal-Marts enlightened response: get out of the meatcutting business altogether. Today all its stores are stocked with prewrapped meat only. Those few union workers: laid off. And I’ll bet you that their meat is not coming from businesses affiliated with unions.

As I opined in 2003, Wal-Mart is an evil corporation. It’s as evil today as it has ever been. Their slick web site and media campaigns want you to think their employees are ever so happy and doing ever so well. But that’s the spin, but it’s not the reality. If their average employee is making $9.68 an hour they are still living in poverty or slinging two or three other jobs to get by. How do I know? Because factoring for inflation, $9.68 in 2004 was worth $3.79 an hour in 1979. And that’s about what I averaged on a good week working full time at Montgomery Ward selling shoes against a draw. And I was living in poverty. I could not afford a car. I lived in a group home. I could not afford health insurance. I had trouble affording food. I ate a lot of rice and boil in bags because they were cheap. The fact that this $9.68 an hour wage is almost twice the current minimum wage is irrelevant. It is still poverty wages. The minimum wage has simply not kept up with inflation.

Wouldn’t it be great if we moved the focus of our War Against Evil from places like Iraq and liberated Wal-Mart employees instead? Wouldn’t it be great if we forced scummy corporations like Wal-Mart to pay their employees a living wage? I’m ready to enlist in that War Against Evil.


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