Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Attention Walmart Workers: Go to Hell

Good article in today's Washington Post by the American Prospect's Harold Meyerson contrasting Walmart encouraging the downward slide of wages in this country, as opposed to the effect of the early auto industry which pushed workers' wages up to the point where they could buy houses.
The nation's largest employer, with 3,200 outlets in the United States and sales revenue of $245 billion last year (which, if WalMart were a nation, would rank it between Belgium and Sweden as the world's 19th largest economy) doesn't pay its workers -- excuse me, "associates" -- enough to buy decent cars, let alone homes.
Actually, Meyerson doesn't go far enough. As other authors have pointed out, Walmart "associates" don't even make enough money to shop at Walmart.

Meyerson points out that Walmart's practices threaten not only the wages of Walmart workers and other service employees, but also the ability of workers to organize:
Wal-Mart's expansion into non-southern metropolitan areas, the company poses a huge threat to the million or so unionized clerks who work at the nation's major supermarket chains.
And finally, what does this say about democracy (economic and political) in America?
It may just be me, but I don't recall the moment when the American people proclaimed their preference for an economy driven by Wal-Mart to the one driven by General Motors. It is, after all, one thing to live in a nation where the largest employer wants workers to make enough to afford its cars; quite another to wake up in an America where the largest employer wants workers to make so little they'll be compelled to buy low-end goods in a discount chain. Indeed, polling has consistently showed that a clear majority of the American people have been dubious about the benefits of free trade -- but these are the only polls that the political elite, so poll-driven on other questions, has consistently ignored. By the same token, polling also shows that Americans believe workers should have the right to join unions free of intimidation, yet that has not been the case in the American workplace for at least the past three decades.
Update: Check out Carter Wright for more on Walmart's anti-union campaign.