Monday, February 14, 2005

2 reasons why wal-mart will be extra-hard to crack

folks who have been following the Jonquiere store saga already know how seriously Walmart takes this organizing drive. I wanted to add a few extra obstacles to the ones most frequently mentioned -- Walmart's rigidly centralized governance, their vertical and horizonatal market power, the job and unit classification problems, etc.

Here they are:

1) The success of big-box retail stores depends partly on their ability to squeeze their workforce into an irrational mentality of retail cheerleadership. To be successful at Walmart an employee must -- well, be male, first off, but moving on -- at least appear to completely endorse Sam Walton's vision of utopian supply and service. Plenty if not most employees can see through this, but when a significant chunk of the nationwide campaign rhetoric will revolve around the damage done by Walmart to local communities and consumers, union organizers are gonna encounter some resistance to that idea. Even when employees are fully on the program of better wages, benefits, and voice-at-work.

2) Unlike many in the labor movement, I believe a good deal of what Walmart executives/spokespeople are saying about the effect of unions on their stores. Walmart is able to operate how it does due to an entrenched and systematic exploitation of workers at all levels, and (as Andrew Pelletier claims in the NYT article), union presence in a Walmart store "would have fundamentally changed the economic model." Not that this kind of change is unique or unprecedented in the labor movement. My friends in GESO at Yale will know what I'm talking about, as would auto workers at GM plants if there were still any around. To continue to function under collective bargaining agreements, Walmart will actually have to overhaul its entire company.

That, incidentally, is why I (and tons of others) see the Walmart fight as such a critical one. Finally the challenge, and the necessary reform, actually matches the scope of what's at stake.

tell walmart to knock it the fuck off.

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