FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

How Wal-Mart Can Be Beaten

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. is not only the largest private-sector employer in the United States (with more than 3,600 stores and 1.2 million employees), it’s the largest private-sector employer in both Mexico and Canada as well. It already has 60 stores in what is quaintly referred to as Communist China, with plans for more. As an example of the clout Wal-Mart wields, it was able to persuade Procter & Gamble to invent a whole new version of “Tide” detergent, one that would be more suitable for the manual wash-machines used in China.

Anyone who’s seen Wal-Mart’s widely circulated promotional video can’t help but be struck by the company’s numbing arrogance and ambition. The video shows jubilant Chinese workers (“associates”) dressed in matching T-shirts, doing group calisthenics while chanting corporate slogans. (That annoying whirring sound in the background is Chairman Mao spinning in his grave.)

It goes without saying that Wal-Mart’s entire U.S. operation is non-union. Indeed, the Wal-Mart empire has come to symbolize everything labor unions despise in a non-union enterprise: stinginess, intractability, invincibility. But give Wal-Mart its due credit. Somehow it has managed to convince a million unprotected, under-appreciated, under-paid and under-insured “associates” that labor unions and exploitation go together like vodka and regrets. That’s no small feat.

In early 2003, the AFL-CIO launched a massive drive to organize Wal-Mart’s U.S. operation. Besides devoting enormous time and money (reportedly, tens of millions of dollars) to the effort, the union unveiled its ambitious plan in a gaudy press release. Because Wal-Mart is to anti-collectivist sentiment what Babe Ruth was to baseball, cracking its enamel-like shell was a chance for Big Labor to show what it could do on center stage.

Instead, as most are aware, the AFL-CIO failed to organize a single store. Not one. With 3,600 ducks on the pond, and the world’s most expensive shotgun in their lap, they couldn’t hit a single duck. This shrieking failure was so disappointing, so staggering, that the House of Labor, to this day, has not fully recovered from it. In truth, the recent splintering of the AFL-CIO into a rival labor conglomerate called “Change to Win” was a direct consequence of the Wal-Mart debacle.

As for that splintering, a digression: Nothing against SEIU president Andrew Stern and his band of mutineers (they did what they felt had to be done), but doesn’t “Change To Win” sound like something spawned at a management retreat? Change to Win. It has the smarmy, unmistakable ring of seminar-speak. Wouldn’t something terse and hopeful, like the “New Alliance,” or weirdly haunting, like “Ergo Nation,” have been better?

In any event, the AFL-CIO’s traditional game-plan for attracting new members is now considered too conservative, too genteel, to be effective. In a word, it’s seen as obsolete. You won’t convince workers as indoctrinated as Wal-Mart’s to jungle up with a union simply by passing out handbills and solidarity buttons. A new approach is required.

Labor needs to drop a bomb. It needs to introduce to the Wal-Mart crowd the agitprop concept of class-warfare. Introduce the concept the way the early fur traders introduced rum to the Mohawks. Provoke these workers; arouse them, inflame them, goad them, dare them, shame them into taking action.

To transform these gentle retailers into “Wal-Martyrs,” the union must resort to psychological hellfire and brimstone. These workers need to be insulted, not educated. Appeal to their American sense of fair play. Tell them the truth. Tell them that so long as Wal-Mart’s executives regard them as weak-minded and gutless, they will continue to piss on them from a great height

Use psychodrama. Suggest that what we have here is high school all over again, and that the same dynamic that prevailed then prevails now. Use the class-warfare template: Workers are the “regular” kids—the majority, the decent, nose-to-the-grindstone core of the school. Wal-Mart executives are the rich, conceited students—spoiled kids who dress too well, whose parents buy them expensive cars and pay for abortions.

But unlike high school, where the choices were limited to envying, resenting or ignoring this privileged class, a labor union provides an additional choice. You can now defy them. You can overthrow them. You can pull the pompous bastards off the edifice and make them eat cafeteria food, just like the rest of us.

There’s a memorable line in the movie, “The Usual Suspects”: “The greatest trick Satan ever played was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” That same quote could apply to the concept of class-warfare. Somewhere along the way we began pretending that class distinctions don’t exist. But they do exist. You can find them, along with everything else, at your neighborhood Wal-Mart.

DAVID MACARAY, a Los Angeles playwright and writer, was president and chief contract negotiator of the Assn. of Western Pulp and Paper Workers, Local 672, from 1989 to 2000. He can be reached at: dmacaray@earthlink.net

 

 

More articles by:

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

July 18, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
Politics and Psychiatry: the Cost of the Trauma Cover-Up
Frank Stricker
The Crummy Good Economy and the New Serfdom
Linda Ford
Red Fawn Fallis and the Felony of Being Attacked by Cops
David Mattson
Entrusting Grizzlies to a Basket of Deplorables?
Stephen F. Eisenman
Want Gun Control? Arm the Left (It Worked Before)
CJ Hopkins
Trump’s Treasonous Traitor Summit or: How Liberals Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the New McCarthyism
Patrick Bond
State of the BRICS Class Struggle: Repression, Austerity and Worker Militancy
Dan Corjescu
The USA and Russia: Two Sides of the Same Criminal Corporate Coin
The Hudson Report
How Argentina Got the Biggest Loan in the History of the IMF
Kenn Orphan
You Call This Treason?
Max Parry
Ukraine’s Anti-Roma Pogroms Ignored as Russia is Blamed for Global Far Right Resurgence
Ed Meek
Acts of Resistance
July 17, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Trump & The Big Bad Bugs
Robert Hunziker
Trump Kills Science, Nature Strikes Back
John Grant
The Politics of Cruelty
Kenneth Surin
Calculated Buffoonery: Trump in the UK
Binoy Kampmark
Helsinki Theatrics: Trump Meets Putin
Patrick Bond
BRICS From Above, Seen Critically From Below
Jim Kavanagh
Fighting Fake Stories: The New Yorker, Israel and Obama
Daniel Falcone
Chomsky on the Trump NATO Ruse
W. T. Whitney
Oil Underground in Neuquén, Argentina – and a New US Military Base There
Doug Rawlings
Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War” was Nominated for an Emmy, Does It Deserve It?
Rajan Menon
The United States of Inequality
Thomas Knapp
Have Mueller and Rosenstein Finally Gone Too Far?
Cesar Chelala
An Insatiable Salesman
Dean Baker
Truth, Trump and the Washington Post
Mel Gurtov
Human Rights Trumped
Binoy Kampmark
Putin’s Football Gambit: How the World Cup Paid Off
July 16, 2018
Sheldon Richman
Trump Turns to Gaza as Middle East Deal of the Century Collapses
Charles Pierson
Kirstjen Nielsen Just Wants to Protect You
Brett Wilkins
The Lydda Death March and the Israeli State of Denial
Patrick Cockburn
Trump Knows That the US Can Exercise More Power in a UK Weakened by Brexit
Robert Fisk
The Fisherman of Sarajevo Told Tales Past Wars and Wars to Come
Gary Leupp
When Did Russia Become an Adversary?
Uri Avnery
“Not Enough!”
Dave Lindorff
Undermining Trump-Putin Summit Means Promoting War
Manuel E. Yepe
World Trade War Has Begun
Binoy Kampmark
Trump Stomps Britain
Wim Laven
The Best Deals are the Deals that Develop Peace
Kary Love
Can We Learn from Heinrich Himmler’s Daughter? Should We?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Franklin Lamb, Requiescat in Pace
Weekend Edition
July 13, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Brian Cloughley
Lessons That Should Have Been Learned From NATO’s Destruction of Libya
Paul Street
Time to Stop Playing “Simon Says” with James Madison and Alexander Hamilton
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: In the Land of Formula and Honey
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s Intellectuals Bow to the Queen of Chaos 
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail