Friday, March 11, 2005

wal-mart obsession

I know I post about this a lot, but hey. You knew who I was when you married me.

We had a conversation today, on the way back from the hearing, which posed some difficult questions. I won't relate it all, but I'll just summarize the train of thought we were following, and why it took us to a tricky strategic juncture.

1) It's a given that the fight against Wal-mart is about more than organizing workers, and people besides unions have a clear stake in its result. Moreover, just as unions have played a critical role in the fight to prevent store openings, collective bargaining agreements will probably succeed in part through coalition- building with neighborhood, environmental, and consumer groups.

2) This coalition structure poses a problem. Unions primarily oppose Wal-mart development because the jobs are undercompensated, non-union jobs. If we had collective bargaining agreements with Wal-mart, the labor movement would be supporting their development efforts. That's how we do our thing. But won't that be selling out our coalition allies, who care about open space, sprawl, traffic, and the danger to small businesses?

3) Well, heck. We could just be magnanimous and stay out of it, and let the other groups bar Wal-mart development on their own. After all, there's plenty of Wal-mart shops open already. We can just organize those, right?

4) Oops, no. Two problems. First of all, our support for Wal-mart developments is the carrot, and sand-bagging them with zoning laws & rulings is the stick. Take away the carrot and we won't get too many contracts. Second of all, the zoning laws vary from place to place, and places where we can get a toe-hold in the zoning boards are few and far between. Plus, it's easier to organize right from the beginning instead of going into an existing shop. Either way, we're not going to give up a hundreds of new members that easily.

5) So, assuming the organizing component of the Wal-mart fight starts to succeed, or succeeds beyond our dreams, there'll be some thorny coalition issues that will continue. And getting that second contract won't be half as easy without the community behind it.

6) Here's where I take some consolation. If the coalition is strong, and smart, they'll recognize that it's an all-or-nothing proposition. Wal-mart will need to meet everyone's conditions in order to develop, at which point the only unsatisfied folks will be those that won't tolerate Wal-mart under any conditions. In my opinion, that's an unrealistic proposition even in our best dreams, and those folks were going to get sold out no matter what. Also, it is possible for unions to broaden their objectives to include open-space preservation and small-business support. It may not happen at the beginning, but I wouldn't be surprised to see those kinds of deals as the campaign continues.

That is, of course, assuming that Wal-Mart doesn't continue whipping us to smithereens like they have been.

An attorney at my firm wrote her thesis on using zoning law to bar Wal-mart, so I'm looking forward to reading that and learning more about the ins and outs of this. I know you're on the edge of your seat.

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