As usual, Walmart, the world's largest and most profitable retailer, has big plans for Black Friday. In an effort to attract the lion's share of Black Friday shoppers Walmart is planning to roll out even more low, Low, LOW! prices than usual. The secret to Walmart's staggering success is volume . Walmart can afford to sell its merchandise at a steeper discount than any other store because Walmart deals in much greater volume than any other retailer. Droves of shoppers pack Walmart stores in every corner of the globe because shoppers know that they are going to find more and bigger bargains at Walmart than at any other store.
It's like a magical feedback loop: Walmart finds a way to cut prices and, rather than driving itself to bankruptcy, Walmart profits go through the roof. Lower prices guarantee ever-increasing numbers of bargain-hungry shoppers. It's like the world's greatest a win-win strategy. Shoppers get their bargains, Walmart gets it profits, and everybody ends up better off in the end.
Or do they?
There is a tragic chink in Walmart's "populist" armor. While there is no doubt that Walmart loves to deliver severely discounted products to its customers, in order to maximize discounts, Walmart is infamously stingy with its employees. Actually, stingy is too generous a term: when it comes to caring for its employees, Walmart is like Ebeneezer Scrooge on steroids. Walmart's legendary miserliness includes such things as:
- Paying sub-poverty hourly wages
- Effectively denying job benefits by preventing its employees from accumulating full-time hours
- Walmart pressures its dismally-underpaid part-time employees to work off-the-clock
- Walmart leeches off the federal welfare system by unofficially "encouraging" its employees to apply for poverty relief--even while they are gainfully employed by the world's most profitable corporation
One may well wonder why the world's most profitable company should be so tightfisted with its employees. I mean, if Walmart is raking in bigger profits than any other company, can't it at least afford to pay its employees a living wage?
Are there no prisons ? Are there no workhouses?
Walmart has succeeded in maximizing profits for its Scroogey executives by waging a perennial battle against labor unions. The trick to exploiting labor is to keep workers poor and disorganized. Unions, however, have the opposite influence on workers. With the help of unions, workers become better organized and, thereby, improve their negotiating power. Thus, the last thing that Walmart Executives want is unionized employees. If Walmart's workforce unionizes, the next thing you know employees will be asking for living wages, an end to working off-the-clock, health benefits, etc.
How are Walmart executives supposed to afford their vacation homes in The Caymans if Walmart employees demand a fair day's wages for a fair day's work?
Trade unions have been in retreat ever since the US began deindustrializing in the 1970s. Many have predicted a final end to trade unions as the postindustrial society has increasingly come to dominate the US economy. And with the demise of trade unions, profiteering service sector corporations have gleefully hammered one nail after another in the coffin of workers rights. Yet, against all odds, out of the ashes if the industrial trade union movement, a new spectre is emerging. The same spirit that emboldened industrial trade unionists in the first half of the twentieth century has returned to infuse new life into the fledgling activism of postindustrial workers. While that populist spirit has succeeded in sparking new hope among a new era of downtrodden wage laborers, the spectre remains frightening and loathsome to the Scrooges who still lust after every penny of profit that they can squeeze out of their bedraggled employees.
Will the Scrooges ever realize that they, in fact, have more to gain from the return of this spirit than anyone? (Hint: There's more to life than amplifying the misery of the poor.)
God bless the courageous Walmart employees who will risk their jobs when they join the Black Friday strike on Walmart. God bless the Walmart executives who value profit over every other "immaterial" value: health, happiness, generosity, fraternity.
God bless us everyone.
Thanks to the New York General Assembly for the image.