Sunday, November 25, 2012

Selling Solidarity Cheap

There are so many places I've made it a point to avoid through the years, although I sort of wish I'd patronized them before so I could boycott them on principle now - Walmart, Papa John's, Denny's, Chik-Fil-A, et al. I initially stayed away because their products were crap but if I could, I'd re-stay away because their policies are even crappier.

Papa John Schnatter recently "clarified" and minimized his remarks about Obamacare. I never believed he would follow through on what he said about cutting employees' hours so the giant pizza chain wouldn't have to comply with the ACA or how it would cost an additional 11 to 14 cents per pizza (OMG!) to provide healthcare to his employees. I took his threats for what they were - the sulky sour grapes of a very rich man whose candidate lost the presidency thanks to the united efforts of lots of (to his mind) ignorant lower class people....exactly the same people who have made him rich, incidentally. Ditto all that in regard to Denny's CEO.

I had Chik-Filet-A a couple of times when the girls at work brought in breakfast sandwiches. They didn't impress me enough to encourage me seek them out on my own. After it was revealed that part of the money customers ponied up for their chicken went to fund the suppression of civil rights for gays, I was glad I hadn't become a Chik-Filet-A devotee.

More recently, we learned that Hostess executives were giving themselves multi-million dollar raises even as their company was going bankrupt, for which they blamed their union employees.

And, of course, during the presidential campaign, "vulture capitalism" became a new phrase in our economic lexicon, thanks to Mitt Romney and Bain Capital.

Walmart is the biggie, of course, and always has been. The mega-company is now the largest retail seller in the world, employing 1.4 million Americans and 2.1 million globally (as what they laughingly call, "associates"). Each week, one/third of all Americans visit a Walmart.

Eventually, Walmart will  probably add a car dealership on one end of their stores, a hospital on the other end, a movie theatre in front and a mortuary in back. Whenever we leave our houses, we will just automatically head for Walmart, having no need to go anywhere else. It will be like the world's company store. We'll be in debt to them from our birth right through to death. They'll probably start paying in Walmart scrip soon like the mines used to do decades ago.

I read on Facebook, which granted isn't the font of all truth but its probably close enough, that the Walmart heirs now own as much wealth as the bottom 42 percent of Americans. (Upon further research, I confirmed this is true). In other words, almost half of us! It has been well-documented by now how they manage to retain so much of their profit. It's because we, the tax-payers, (who are also their employers and customers), help them do it. Because they pay so poorly and offer so few benefits, we subsidize their work force through the food stamps and health care for which that work force qualifies. Hey, that's a great system they've created for themselves, isn't it? And that only includes American store employees, of course. I don't suppose that happens in other countries, like China, for the peons who grow and assemble Walmart's products. (And we certainly have cause to be aware by now that the giant corporation's quality control standards are less than rigorous).

Years ago, when I worked in factories, management touted what they called a "closed loop system". Back then it applied to not having to maintain a large inventory due to "just in time" ordering and assembling. They didn't know the half of what a closed loop system could really mean. Walmart has taken it to the nth degree.

We know from experience that Walmart is brutally relentless about firing employees who try to unionize or even form non-union collectives in so-far ineffectual attempts to negotiate for higher pay and more generous benefits and most of all, convenient work schedules so positions at Walmart are more like normal jobs and less like belonging to a plantation.

Black Friday 2012 brought "Boycott Walmart" efforts in which 1,000 Walmart stores in 100 cities and 46 states were picketed to convince customers to stay away. Organizers were hoping at least ten percent of shoppers would cooperate. The boycott was spear-headed by a group, OUR Walmart, in conjunction with several unions.

The results appear to have been mixed. Lots of honks and shouts of support but shoppers who were interviewed by the media said that while they sympathized with the workers, they really, really needed those sale items Walmart was offering. Walmart itself pooh-poohed the boycott stating in a press release that the response was negligible and proved it by releasing figures showing they sold a gazillion television sets, towels and bicycles on Black Friday.

Solidarity among working people has toppled dictatorships, forced social change, created optimum conditions for a thriving middle-class citizenry. It appears the majority of Americans have been willing to trade it away in return for a cheap flat-screen t.v. or, even, a crummy pizza.