Walmart picketers rage against the market
The picketing of a few Walmart stores is more about political theater than a genuine attempt to organize workers at any of the particular locales on the receiving end of today's stunt. As American unions have devolved from workers' representatives to political tools of the left, labor bosses like AFL-CIO head Richard Trumka focus their energies on advancing the leftists' narrative. The great project of the left is to replace the market as a means of economic management with government. Government worker unions now dominate the movement, and accordingly, the remaining private sector union workers are being betrayed by their leaders, as for example, the Mine Workers or the Bakers at Hostess.
The Walmart action today is great political theater, perfectly timed on a slow news day when shopping is in the news, and the compliant media are eager to gobble up stories beyond the predictable big crowds and sporadic misbehavior among bargain-crazed door-busting proles. So the left gets to make its case, and at bottom, the case amounts to delegitimizing market forces.
Josh Eidelson of hard left The Nation:
"We're not trying to do this in the completely traditional way of, 'know your numbers,'" said Dan Schlademan, a United Food & Commercial Workers union official who directs the allied group Making Change at Walmart, in an interview earlier this month. "This is really about doing open-sourced organizing...The total of what happens, we're not going to really know it until Black Friday.
Open-sourced organizing is a euphemism for relying on internet social media, the Left's great new tool. In other words, the "strike" (as the unions call it) is a flash mob sort of labor action. But if the TV cameras capture a picket line and interview a talking-points-spewing spokeshuman, an impression is made on the minds of many that there is something wrong with Walmart, that it is unfair, and that workers need to fight back.
The object here is not really organizing Walmart, it is damaging it, and setting an example, just as then demise of Hostess did. The unions are telling companies by implication that they play hardball. Messages are being delivered through this drama. The more romantic souls on the left receive a different message, and fantasize about a great rebirth of the union spirit.
"Certainly if you look at labor history, there's plenty of examples where workers go out on strike because they see other workers going out on strike," said Joe Burns, the author of Reviving the Strike. "That's why strikes tend to happen in strike waves, whether it's workers in the '30s or public employees in the 1960s. Whether or not they can re-create that here, I guess we'll have to see." Burns said that while "organizing is still about to face-to-face contact," in an age when workers can connect with unseen co-workers over Facebook, "the power of example is easier to find."
But of course the cold, hard reality is that unionizing Walmart is hopeless. The company's business model is driven by law prices ultra-efficiency, and hardnosed bargaining with everyone, from suppliers to workers. Walmart shopper don't go to Walmart for ambience, they want low prices.
Jordan Weissman in The Atlantic explains to his left leaning readership the bigger problem market forces present to the statists of the left.
...it's symptomatic of forces Wal-Mart helped set in motion and now shape our economy in fundamental way. It's about big box retail's refusal to pay a decent wage. It's about the way we've stacked the deck against unions. And it's about the choices we make as consumers. (snip)
To put these figures in perspective, the federal poverty line for a family of three is $19,090. You would have to work 40 hours a week, every week of the year at Best Buy to clear that figure. Since about 42 percent of low-wage retail employees only work part time, according to a recent study by Demos, it's not a surprise that about a quarter of them live in or near full poverty.
So unless a job comfortably supports a family of three on 40 hours' worth of work a week, it is unjust. Never mind the many people who prefer part time work, because they are a second or even third job, helping to support a family, or because they are studying. The reality of the modern affluent economy is the integration of women into the labor force, something the left celebrated. That means that a family of three or more is likely to have more than one earner. Whenever it suits the left, we hear derision aimed at the Ozzie and Harriet family model, but when it comes to economic demands, Ward Cleaver is the norm.
Even Eidelson can't completely ignore the obvious reality of retailing.
There are many reasons why pay in retail is often paltry. Among them, it's a low-skill industry with high turnover and a lot young workers. But the sector's utter lack of of union presence certainly plays role.
The utter lack of union presence is for sound economic reasons. But on the left, sound economic reasoning is hardly a habit.
The ultimate irony of the unions' attack on Walmart is that the low prices the company has introduced to retailing have enhanced the standard of living of the poorest Americans, enabling them to get more for their limited funds. This poverty-fighting role of the company is never acknowledged on the left. But by their behavior, we can tell that the poorest Americans, (cruelly - and hilariously -- mocked by the website People of Walmart) understand what Walmart does for them.
Update. Rosslyn Smith urges us to remember the employee discount workers receive:
A part time job at Walmart is highly valued by thrifty Americans because it comes with a 10% employee discount on almost all general merchandise items as well as some food items, including fresh fruits and vegetables. With careful planning, an extended family with one member who works part time at Walmart can easily save more on the employee discount than the member earns in wages. For example, when a neighbor's wife worked at the Walmart Supercenter, she'd do all the shopping for her own family, her elderly mother-in-law, and her divorced step-daughter with two children, to maximize the discount savings,