Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Grassroots Activism targeting Wal-Mart

A grassroots movement is afoot targeting Wal-Mart's lack of healthcare benefits for employees. Two groups Democracy for America and Wake-Up Wal-Mart, specifically, are responsible.

I was talking to one of my relatives, employed by Wal-Mart, about trying to start a union at Wal-Mart. She's on the spunky side, so I wondered what her thoughts were on the issue. She wasn't too interested because she knew what Wal-Mart does to successfully and unsuccessfully organized employees. Her assessment was it was a catch-22. She needed the job to take care of her kids, and she didn't have a lot of alternatives. She also needed the healthcare and a better wage, but...you take what you can get to put food on the table.

Do you think with these kinds of groups involved there will be new leverage on the table for employees trying to organize? or do you think it will make a difference? Will Wal-Mart pay attention to a few consumers if they don't to employees?

6 Comments:

At 2:22 PM, Anonymous Adam said...

There is already a massive grassroots movement to support Walmart - the millions of people who freely chose to work and shop there.

Any attempt to interfere with the mutually beneficial relationships between Walmart and its employees, and Walmart and its customers will not be a grassroots effort, but an elitist effort to tell others what they should do.

 
At 10:20 AM, Blogger Erin said...

Hi again Adam, are you trolling or are you really interested in this?

Giving you the benefit of the doubt, I'll respond.

1. Sociologists don't equate a grassroots movement with consumerism. (nor do any scholars I'm aware of interested in social movements define a movement on such, umm...criteria).

2.As far as "freely" choosing to work or shop at Wal-Mart this is also debatable. When one lives in a small town, and the SuperWal-Mart moves in and puts the K-Mart out of business and some of the other grocery stores along with the already struggling downtown businesses, I'm not sure how much choice consumers then have. That is unless they are motivated NOT to shop at Wal-Mart, in which case, they would have to plan in advance some alternate shopping. This requires thoughtful planning, and conscious choices NOT to use Wal-Mart. Passively shopping there for lack of options, is not quite free nor, again, a movement.

As far as "freely" working at Wal-Mart, as I said, when the other businesses are forced out, you are then left with the superstore for employment.

3.As far as "interference" with Wal-Mart and "its" employees - do you think Wal-Mart owns the rights to these people? - and the "mutually beneficial" relationship...wow. on what basis are you making this statement? Mutuality suggests some sort of reciprocity, clearly in no way is there reciprocity between the some of the richest people in the world and some of the poorest. I simply don't understand what you are trying to say here.

4. And to "elitist" efforts to tell others what they should do. Again, I'm not sure how you define elite. Are you talking about academics? I think these groups are made up more of conscientious consumers and human rights activists than preoccupied academics. By calling them elite doesn't make it so.

 
At 9:17 AM, Anonymous Adam said...

1. Sociologists don't equate a grassroots movement with consumerism. (nor do any scholars I'm aware of interested in social movements define a movement on such, umm...criteria).

I'm not doing that. I'm just pointing out that millions of individuals choose to work and shop at Walmart without anyone telling them that they should. This seems very grassroots to me.


2.As far as "freely" choosing to work or shop at Wal-Mart this is also debatable. When one lives in a small town, and the SuperWal-Mart moves in and puts the K-Mart out of business and some of the other grocery stores along with the already struggling downtown businesses, I'm not sure how much choice consumers then have. That is unless they are motivated NOT to shop at Wal-Mart, in which case, they would have to plan in advance some alternate shopping. This requires thoughtful planning, and conscious choices NOT to use Wal-Mart. Passively shopping there for lack of options, is not quite free nor, again, a movement.

Sure you can question the very existence of free-will if you want. But you can't blame Walmart for a lack of economic opportunity in an area. If Walmart comes into a town and happens to be the best option for shopping and working, people will choose to shop and work their.

What does it tell you if other stores go out of business when a Walmart moves in? Even if Walmart is "bad" it must be less-bad if it is the best option for a community.

As far as "freely" working at Wal-Mart, as I said, when the other businesses are forced out, you are then left with the superstore for employment.

Since you like picking apart definitions, your use of "forced" is simply incorrect. Does Walmart use any of the coercive tactics of unions such as strikes and sit-ins? I think you just can't accept that free-thinking people would choose to have anything to do with Walmart, so you have to claim they are "forced" to do it.

3.As far as "interference" with Wal-Mart and "its" employees - do you think Wal-Mart owns the rights to these people? - and the "mutually beneficial" relationship...wow. on what basis are you making this statement? Mutuality suggests some sort of reciprocity, clearly in no way is there reciprocity between the some of the richest people in the world and some of the poorest. I simply don't understand what you are trying to say here.

My point is that nobody owns the rights to anybody. Walmart Employees choose to be Walmart employees.

If the relationship were not mutually beneficial, why would individuals choose to work at Walmart and why would Walmart choose to hire the individuals?

The reciprocity is that the rich people make it possible for poor people to have a much better life. Walmart provides a way for an uneducated person to be productive.

4. And to "elitist" efforts to tell others what they should do. Again, I'm not sure how you define elite. Are you talking about academics? I think these groups are made up more of conscientious consumers and human rights activists than preoccupied academics. By calling them elite doesn't make it so.

If you personally do not want to shop at Walmart, that does not make you elitist, but when you cannot understand how any reasonable person could possibly freely feel differently than you, that makes on elitist.

Academics tend to be elitist and leftist. Those things are very closely related.

 
At 6:31 PM, Blogger Erin said...

Do you acknowledge social structures, like economic ones, exist? Do you acknowledge stratification?

I think this is the fundamental point of disagreement here. You seem to surmise that every action of a person corresponds only to "free will."

I, on the other hand, study social structures that limit the choices people are given to exercise their free will to begin with, like economic stratification.

I'm afraid if you don't acknowledge their existence, then I, my research, and this blog is moot for you.

 
At 5:12 PM, Anonymous Adam said...

I certainly realize that circumstances often limit one's choices. Stratification... I'm not sure about your views on this, but individuals move through different levels of wealth and income quite often in the US. It is an exception to find someone who is poor or rich for their entire life.

My view is that options may be limited, but individuals still make choices. As a result, Walmart does not have any special power to put other places out of business. Walmart puts other places out of business because for some reason, consumers choose to shop at Walmart. In Champaign-Urbana, I have shopped at the Super Walmart and Strawberry Fields. Although they both sell food, the customers are very different. Clearly some people prefer Walmart and others prefer Strawberry fields. I doubt there is anything Walmart could ever do to force the Strawberry fields customers to only shop at Walmart.

Also, Walmart cannot simply move into a town, close down the other stores, and leave the community with only one option for employment. Walmart needs employees to operate, so it must hire people before it drives the higher-priced Kmart out of business. Walmart jobs must be the best option for those who choose to work their.

If you asked any Walmart employee. I'm sure they would tell you that their Walmart job is better than no job... and if they could do better, then why don't they?

Stratification, if it actually exists in some form, is probably more likely to be found in a socialist or communist country than one that provides individuals with freedom. At least that's what history, and current events tell us.

 
At 12:11 PM, Anonymous Nacim said...

I wish more people understood how unions really worked. Sure, unions are able to significantly raise the wages of its members but at a tremendous cost to non-unionized labor. You can't really go far by ignoring the ever present laws of supply and demand. If you raise the price of anything, all other things being equal, that thing will be consumed less. For a union to be sucessful in raising its member's wages, it must be sucessful in keeping competitors out. Union members competitors are non-unionized workers. It is therefore not surprising that unions are the biggest supporters of raising the minimum wage and keeping out foreign imports. Each of those things help shield unions from unskilled labor competition. And let's not forget the viciousness strikebreakers usually receive from union members. Think back to 1997 UPS strike when strikebreaker Rod Carter was assaulted and stabbed 6 times by an ice pick by a group of Teamsters.

If you really want to help the workers, people to realize that unions are not some sort of charity organization. They are after their own interests and the majority of the time their interests are in direct conflict with non-union workers. So much for worker solidarity. Let's please end this wide-eyed naive glorification.

Another point, companies will only pay workers enough to attract and retain them. One thing that drives wages up is the competition present between employers. The fact that Wal-Mart generally pays around $9-$10 (substantially more than the minimum wage) is definite proof that Wal-Mart employees have other options available to them. If this wasn't the case, there would be no reason Wal-Mart would pay a cent more than the minimum wage.

 

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