Wal-Mart’s soiled profits are built on the backs of poor people of color throughout the world. And the mega retail corporation saturates the media with ads extolling its stores and products. (Los Angeles’ Crenshaw District store is an abomination; it seems to specialize in shoddy goods and poor customer service. Local customers, largely Black and Latino, continue to patronize this and other Wal-Mart stores.)
People should not be distracted by the civil rights record of hired guns like Andrew Young. He, like others, are bit players in Wal-Mart’s imperialistic charade. It exploits Blacks and other workers of color throughout the world. A host of lawsuits against Wal-Mart reflects the depth and duration of its anti-worker policies and practices in the U.S.
Organizations that accept Wal-Mart’s money turn a blind eye to its worldwide slave labor practices and continuing exploitation of workers in this country. It conspires with local developers—and government agencies- to build new stores, often in the face of fierce community opposition.
The NAACP and Urban League accept hundreds of thousands of dollars. But ill informed Blacks and Latinos fail to take these civil rights organizations to task for accepting such funds. Partnering with Wal-Mart is not only penny-wise and pound-foolish, but contrary to the moral and ethical tenets civil rights (and other Black community leaders) purport to uphold.
Wal-Mart lobbying against high taxes for the rich contributes to right wing candidates and funds conservative think tanks and efforts to privatize public education. (Putting a dent in the corporate giant requires cohesion and unity not yet apparent in the ranks of the opposition.)
Last year, Wal-Mart made noises suggesting a loosening of its oppressive policies. But its proposed increase in healthcare benefits, for example, was camouflaged to deflect increasingly harsh criticism of its unfair employment practices.
Sam Walton built his first stores in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri, exploiting the “surplus labor” that resulted from corporate agricultural consolidation and the ravages of the 1930s Dust Bowl. Small farmers turned to Sam Walton, in an attempt to keep their land. Walton’s workers were overwhelmingly White, drawn from one of the most exclusively White regions in the nation—the Ozarks. He also capitalized on the patriarchal, small farmer mentality of his customers.
Wal-Mart is the end result of a long history of retailers relentlessly seeking to increase market shares and dominance over companies that actually make the product. Ironically, unions welcomed the mega-stores. They opposed anti-chain stores legislation because they preferred to organize big chains rather than thousands of small stores. Wal-Mart now accounts for over two percent of U.S. Gross Domestic Product—relevant to current labor debates: Do unions become more powerful by linking their fortunes to bigger and bigger companies?
Since Wal-Mart is the logical result of capitalist development, any anti-Wal-Mart movement must involve forces that resist the encroachments of capital on Blacks, others of color, and the poor.
There have been confabs in various cities and participants’ comments are illuminating. “If Wal-Mart raised the price of every item by just one cent, it could provide good health care for all employees... Actually, Wal-Mart wants high turnover so people won’t become attached to the company and make demands upon it.”
“An anti-Wal-Mart movement is at its core, an anti-corporate movement... If activists are wedded only to gain a corporate contract, failure is embedded in the plan. (This is akin to the point made in a previous Urban Perspectives column in response to the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) and The Coalition for A Better Inglewood seeking an audience with Wal-Mart’s CEO last year.)
A participant at a Wal-Mart conference in Chicago last year, said, “The problem is that working people remain in poverty. The issue goes beyond whether Wal-Mart is a good or bad employer. There is a need for a movement for quality jobs. “The conference zeroed in on the battle to keep Wal-Mart out of Chicago in 2005. It highlighted the desperation among the poor and the capabilities and resources of the upwardly mobile that provide Wal-Mart plenty openings to penetrate African American political coffers.
Participants indicated that they did not realize the serious leadership crises in the Black community, many concluding blacks allowed the issues to be framed as Wal-Mart versus the unions, rather than Wal-Mart versus the community.
Black people understand that citizens’ rights should trump property rights.
Larry Aubry n can be contacted at e-mail