Ed Naha: 'Wal-Mart goes serfin''
Monday, March 28 @ 09:59:50 EST
By Ed Naha
My Dad was a union man and, growing up, we were taught to honor the "Made in the USA" tag ('cause the worst toys came from Japan) and we heard commercial jingles that told us to "Look For The Union Label." But that was before the NeoCons and Bush, that was before corporate Republicans declared war on American Unions, that was before out-sourcing, that was before globilization and that was before Wal-Mart sold out America.
Wal-Mart is an interesting breed of carnivore. Despite those sweet, Norman Rockwellian TV ads, it's essentially the new Millennium's "Massah" of the Plantation. Founded four decades ago by a fellow named Sam Walton, whose autobiography was, ironically, entitled "Made In America," his company today is America's largest importer of Chinese-made textile goods. Sam, who died over a decade ago and who wanted the cheapest goods for the regular folk, would be SO proud. Serf's up!
According to Xu Jun, Wal-Mart China's director of external affairs: "If Wal-Mart were an individual economy, it would rank as China's EIGHTH biggest trading partner, ahead of Russia, Australia and Canada." So far, more than 70% of the commodities sold in Wal-Mart are made in China. So much for looking for the Union label, huh, kids? (I mean, you could…but unless you can read Chinese?)
Over the years, Wal-Mart has evolved from a folksy Mom and Pop outfit to something resembling a folksy Mom and Pop totalitarian state, wherein a smiling face hides a pair of vampire fangs. Wal-Mart has a habit of sucking the life out of local economies and people are beginning to notice.
According to "USA Today," Wal-Mart, who trails only Exxon Mobile in annual revenue, was sued 4,851 times last year — or nearly once very two hours, every day of the year. Legal analysts believe that Wal-Mart is sued more often than any American entity except the U.S. government, which the Justice Department estimates was sued more than 7,500 times last year. Why? Because they treat their employees like shit, their suppliers like shit, and cozy up to the working poor - who are forced to use their stores because of the low prices - and, then, treat them like shit as well.
Wal-Mart seeks to own America. When the rules don't work for Wal-Mart? It ignores them.
In Dunkirk, Maryland, this month, after Calvert County passed an ordinance limiting the size of a commercial retail building to 75,000 square feet (thus putting the kibosh on a Wal-Mart "Supercenter," at more that 200,000 square feet, not counting parking lots), the Bentonville, Arkansas headquarters of the chain (or virus, if you will) declared that they would build two outlets right next to each other. Each one will be slightly under the 75,000 foot ordinance.
Mia Masten, a Wal-Mart Stores Inc. spokesperson, said that this strategy could be used in other states….to Wal-Mart America.
In short, they are the Darth Vader of American corporations. For instance, to protect against employee theft, many Wal-Mart store managers until recently kept their overnight workers locked in, unable to get emergency help quickly for injuries or sickness (according to "The New York Times").
There have been lawsuits alleging Wal-Mart managers force employees to work off the clock to avoid overtime pay. (In February of this year a Federal Jury ruled that 83 workers who worked unpaid overtime were entitled to payments. The decision came 14 months after a Federal Jury in Portland, Oregon, became the first in the nation to rule that Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, made employees at 18 Oregon stores work unpaid overtime from 1994 to 1999. About three dozen similar suits against the retailer are pending nationwide.)
"It just seems that Wal-Mart has total disregard for any community they go into," says Herbert Kempt, president of the Sandfly Community Betterment Association of Georgia, who is battling a proposed Supercenter in his naib.
Hundreds of communities around the country have organized, with towns from Turlock, California, to Peachtree City, Georgia, passing laws to exclude these superstores. There is always a Wal- Mart store opening somewhere, mostly the huge Supercenters.
In California, Wal-Mart is attempting to introduce 40 Supercenters in the not-too-distant future, which all the targeted communities are fighting. Why? Putting in bluntly, when a Wal-Mart Supercenter moves in, there goes the neighborhood.
Because of Wal-Mart's dirt cheap prices, smaller, local stores are forced to cut theirs as well with most outfits eventually going under.
California Rep. George Miller, ranking Democrat on the House Education and Workforce Committee, released a 22 page report detailing how non-unionized Wal-Mart, the largest employer in both the United States and Mexico, imposed financial burdens on local governments. A certain percentage of its low-paid workers must turn to subsidized medical care, free school lunches, housing subsidies, food stamps and other tax payer-supported welfare services. (The average hourly wage is $8. Cashiers start at about $6.25.)
A typical Wal-Mart store with 200 employees would cost taxpayers $420,750 per year, according to the report. (A Wal-Mart spokesperson termed all of this "pure fantasy.")
Barbara Carpenter, head of Local 1179 of the United Food and Commercial Workers in California, says two supermarkets are shut down by the opening of each Supercenter which, unlike regular Wal-Mart stores, sells everything found in a supermarket. She says the firm's "profit-first philosophy" is "undermining the living standards of American families."
Two weeks ago, a handful of lawyers representing a variety of opposition groups, used California's tough environmental laws to stall the Supercenters, suing more than 30 cities who approved the sites because of their yearning for sales tax windfalls.
Wal-Mart's tendency to use creative accounting with their overtime pay and their ability to circumvent local zoning rules haven't been winning them a lot of friends. This sort of thing, along with low wages and benefits, encourages union organizing.
But, as Bloomberg Markets reports in its March issue, there is evidence Wal-Mart has spies to hunt for organizers and retaliate against union-friendly workers. Wal-Mart denies it. Although, this year, when a Quebec store voted to unionize, Wal-Mart closed it down for "financial reasons."
Meanwhile, female Wal-Mart employees are suing in San Francisco, claiming some 1.6 million current and former employees were paid less and denied promotions because of their gender.
Separate lawsuits have been filed by disabled workers who have been denied jobs because of their disabilities.
Then there is the matter of squeezing suppliers and contributing to the national trade deficit and the loss of U.S. jobs. As the world’s No. 1 retailer bent on constantly lowering prices, Wal-Mart muscles its suppliers to drop their costs, pushing manufacturing jobs out of this country and into low-wage, foreign ones.
"Wall-Mart calls the shots," says John Lehman, who managed 6 Wal-Mart stores over a period of 17 years. "'If you want to do business with us, if you want to stay in business, then you're going to do it our way.' And it's all about driving down the cost of goods."
Bill Nichol at Kentucky Derby Hosiery was a recipient of Wal-Mart's strong arm negotiations. "Their message to us, surprisingly," says Nichol, "(is) if you want to focus on the lowest-cost part of the market, it's obvious that you can't do that in the United States."
In other words, if you want to keep your prices low, move production to China.
Duke University professor Gary Gereffi says Wal-Mart wasn't the first American company to run to China for low-cost goods but it's quickly become the most aggressive. "Wal-Mart was one of the key forces that propelled global outsourcing, off-shoring of U.S. jobs, precisely because it controls so much of the purchasing power of the U.S. economy."
He concludes: "Wal-Mart and China are a joint venture. And both are determined to dominate the U.S. economy as much as they can in a wide range of industries."
At the port of Long Beach, California, five thousand ships arrive each year, 80% carrying Chinese goods. Yvonne Smith, the port's director of communication says: "Thirty-six billion (dollars worth of goods) comes through Long Beach from China alone. Consumer products. We're shipping out about three billion worth of raw materials. We export cotton, we bring in clothing. We export hides, we bring in shoes. We export scrap metal, we bring back machinery. We're exporting wste paper, we bring back cardboard boxes with products inside them…Wal-Mart is our number one customer."
Wal-Mart's America has been reduced to third-world country status in terms of trade.
Although Wal-Mart still espouses to be the friend of the little guy, it has a record of being as warm and fuzzy as Harriet Beecher Stowe's character, Simon Legree.
Finally, the legal system has taken notice.
A judge fined Wal-Mart $18 million because the company provided incomplete and false evidence in a lawsuit brought by a woman who had been abducted from a Wal-Mart parking lot and, subsequently, raped.
Federal judges in three states have fined Wal-Mart–at times as much as $120,000–for destroying evidence, withholding documents, and other violations in cases where Wal-Mart shoppers were either injured or a crime victim at a Wal-Mart store.
A jury found that Wal-Mart fired a white female employee because she was dating a black man, in a 1998 case.
A 14-year Wal-Mart worker was awarded $2.75 million after a jury decided store officials wrongly accused her of stealing.
Wal-Mart sold fake Tommy Hilfiger apparel to consumers after a judged ordered the company to stop.
They ran the Chinese sweat shops that produced the infamous Kathi Lee Gifford handbag line.
They kowtow to the extreme right (read: white) wing Christians when it comes to censorship of everything from music to books.
Only 38% of Wal-Mart employees have company provided health insurance–compared to a national average that shows 60% of employees are covered by company plans.
After the FTC charged Wal-Mart with not identifying the country of origin on apparel items listed on its Internet sales site, Wal-Mart removed the items, apparently preferring not to disclose where they originated. (I'm thinking Mars. The sweaters with six sleeves were a tip-off.)
Wal-Mart has a strong anti-labor union policy, and has been accused of firing workers sympathetic to labor union organization. The company has shown anti-union videos to employees in an effort to discourage unionization. Wal-Mart has allowed unionization ONLY in their stores in China, where state-controlled unionization is mandatory.
(Truly, this company is a Republican’s wet dream.)
Since 1997, federal authorities have uncovered the cases of at least 250 illegal immigrants who were employed by janitor contracting services and hired by the giant retailing chain in 21 states. Many of the janitors -- from Mexico, Russia, Mongolia, Poland and a host of other nations -- worked seven days or nights a week without overtime pay or injury compensation. This case was settled by Wal-Mart for $11 million this month. In the settlement, Wal-Mart admitted to no wrongdoing or liability in the case. Also as a result of the settlement, several of the outside contracting companies hired by Wal-Mart pled guilty to criminal charges.
Last week, a Wal-Mart director and three other employees left the company after an internal probe turned up evidence of financial improprieties.
Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, don't it? I mean, when Bush touts his "ownership society," he never does say who gets to own and who gets to BE owned. This is the time to think about changing your name to either "Mandingo" or "Chicken George."
With a business ethic that resembles that of the Gestapo why, then, do people shop at Wal-Mart? Why do they work there?
Because they have to.
Exacerbated by Bush's "hosanna to the richest, horseshit to the poor" social and economic policies, many middle-class and working poor families are being squeezed into serfdom. If you lose your job and can't find another of equal pay, go to Wal-Mart. They can always use a coolie to sell their Chinese-made goods.
If your heart tells you that shopping at Wal-Mart only makes them stronger but your pay-check tells you that it's their way or living under the highway, you wind up shopping there.
It's that simple.
People have no choice.
So, wave that Chinese-made American flag high, get your shopping cart ready and let's go serfin' at Wal-Mart, USA!