Walmart Once Again Under Scrutiny
Original post made
by Oliver Towne, Another Pleasanton neighborhood,
on Sep 3, 2013
Workers who've been fired by Walmart for their activism set a Labor Day deadline for Walmart to rehire them and raise wages to a livable level, or see the largest mobilization against Walmart since Black Friday. But, predictably, Walmart didn't rehire the 20 workers it fired after they went on strike in June; nor did it rescind other forms of punitive discipline leveled against dozens more worker activists. And it certainly didn't raise wages.
So what's next? Protests in 15 cities are scheduled for this Thursday. The timing of one of those protests is particularly important; the Large Retailer Accountability Act passed by the Washington, DC, city council to give big box store workers a living wage of $12.50 an hour was sent to Mayor Vincent Gray last week; it's still unclear if he'll stand up to Walmart and sign it. And Washington will be the site of one of Thursday's protests, as will Los Angeles, where a Walmart has been proposed in Chinatown. The plan is for significant rallies in those and a dozen other cities.
Protests like these highlight not just the below-subsistence wages paid to Walmart workers themselves, but the way the chain drives down wages at other retailers, relies on government assistance to enable its workers to get by on poverty wages, and actually kills jobs.
That's right. Walmart kills jobs. Walmart's terrible effect on the jobs economy is no secret. Numerous studies show this:
The largest, most rigorous study conducted on the subject is a peer-reviewed article from 2008. Its lead author is economist David Neumark, who is no wild-eyed liberal. (See, for example, an anti-minimum wage op-ed he wrote for the Wall Street Journal). [...]
Using data from over 3,000 counties, their results show that when a Walmart store opens, it kills an average 150 retail jobs at the county level, with each Walmart worker replacing about 1.4 retail workers. These results are robust under a variety of models and tests.
Other highly influential studies found similar results. A 2008 peer-reviewed study that looked at Maryland concluded that Walmart's presence significantly decreased retail employment. And a 2009 study by Loyola University found that the opening of a Chicago Walmart store was "a wash," destroying as many jobs as it created: "There is no evidence that Wal-Mart sparked any significant net growth in economic activity or employment in the area," according to the report.
So Walmart is causing pain with across the boardlower wages, job loss, more need for government assistance for working people.
And it is with this growing accumulation of evidence that workers are taking to the streets in an effort to draw the public's attention to Walmart's questionable practices -- how it bleeds local communities dry of jobs, pushes smaller retailers out, and lowers the bar for how companies should treat its employees.
Well, Walmart workers are not taking this lying down. Stated one Walmart activist worker: "We have tried repeatedly to gain a hearing from Walmart's corporate office. Our efforts have been to no avail. Sometimes, after one's repeated efforts to be heard are dashed, it is time to stand up and make them listen."
Posted by Oliver Towne
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Sep 3, 2013 at 11:38 pm
Your idea of a "free market" is pure fiction. It is something you might have learned from a chapter in a now out-dated high school social science text, but it is not something that exists in reality. Anyone who's been associated with workplace practices knows this.
The confusion results from people like yourself thinking that an economic model -- used as an hypothetical in order to discuss hypothetical behavior -- is a reality. You can wish for it all you want, and you can voice consternation when I tell you the "free market" is real only in your head, but facts are facts.
There is no freedom in workers being compelled to either work for below subsistence wages or see their families starve. You might want to think of these workers as numbers in an hypothetical model (that you mistake for reality), but most of us know better; we've seen real people forced to work sometimes two full-time jobs while attempting to pay medical bills and keep food on the table. Believe or not, Joe, these people are real. They're not in a position -- as the fictive free market model suggests -- to simply pack up the family car and move from Pleasanton to N. Dakota, or even to attend night school in San Francisco. Many don't have cars; many can't afford to stop working in order to travel elsewhere; if you're a fast-food worker, you can't rely on a fixed work schedule upon which to sign up for classes.
About the closest thing to free markets, historically speaking, was the latter part of the 19th and early part of the 20th centuries, when 9 year-olds typically were forced to work the mines. They were not "free" to work the mines; they were forced to work them as a condition of survival. This may not bother you, especially since you seem to live in a universe where fictive models reduce people to abstract numbers.
Thankfully, unions agitated in order to bring about Child Labor Laws. Yes, this legislation restricted capital's ability to exploit child labor. I guess you'd bemoan these advances, yourself. I celebrate them. I celebrate numerous other intrusions into capital's past and present "freedoms" to exploit child labor, to exploit women's labor, to exclude people from the hiring process based upon their race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. When you say you think "free market" is a reality and that you regret restrictions placed upon it, you are effectively saying that you embrace the idea of forced child labor, or companies that exercise their "freedom" by only hiring white males.
The necessary restrictions that have already been placed on capital have not yet reached their full realization. When companies like Walmart continue to hire and keep workers at below poverty wages, to fire workers who voice a desire to be heard as a recognized group, to hire out subsidiary companies overseas that continue to exploit child labor, then it is obvious to most rational folks that Walmart's "freedom" is overextended. This overextension cuts against our most basic moral principles. No individual deserves to be exploited. But that is what Walmart is doing: systematically taking advantage of people's basic need to survive, and implementing a wage level that keeps them and their children impoverished.
It seems to me, if you desire to argue your point, you're going to have to argue (1) that exploitation of humans by other humans is a good thing; (2) that children being compelled to work to help support a family is just hunky-dory; (3) that companies "freedom" to pay women less, or to keep ethnic minorities out, or to discriminate against gays, are all good things. You're also going to have to argue that govts' intervention -- largely in response to organized labor's push -- such as mandatory conditions of workplace health and safety, minimum wage, nondiscrimination in hiring and promotions, are bad things.
You see, Joe, once one steps outside one's little fictionalized bubble, the very idea of "free market" becomes more than a little fantastic -- as in fantasy land.
Now, if you're who I think you are, Joe, you will likely fail to grasp some of my points and will probably willfully ignore my others. But when I write I have to at least assume I'm dealing with a rational interlocutor.
Finally, your comment about keeping politics out of capital and labor's struggles verges on being ludicrous. Because, you see, Joe, it is and always has been political. Workers today are petitioning their legislators to pass more humane labor laws; capital today has high-paid and high-skilled people lobbying to maintain capital's sustained, unfair advantage. It's all politics, Joe. This is why those who once developed the "free market" MODEL (not reality) have been virtually unanimously rejected. We no longer live in Adam Smith's 18th century mind. Reality interceded. Workers speak. In unison. Viva!