Law-breaker, union-buster, tax-escapee and shifter of costs to others,
the world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart, announced last week that it
would respect the wishes of its Chinese workers to form a union. As is
usual with Wal-Mart announcements, a substantial overstatement is
In China, unions are not independent; they are government-controlled
with the Chinese communist party turning them into what would be called
“company unions” in the U.S. With 40 stores in China already, Wal-Mart
understands that these essentially Communist Party-controlled unions
serve as a controlling mechanism over workers – a one-stop system which
often have an in-company manager in charge.
China is seen by Wal-Mart as the future. With the U.S. market
approaching saturation (Wal-Mart has 3,600 big and bigger stores here),
the company with the biggest gross revenues in the world -- $258.7
billion last year – is importing more from Chinese factories then is the
entire country of Germany.
Its message to U.S. suppliers is that if they cannot meet the “China
price,” they should close down in America and open up in the world’s
largest communist dictatorship. Astonishing, isn’t it, that this giant
capitalist corporation is using this Communist regime as its labor
enforcement arm to drive down wages and benefits in the U.S.
In Western Europe, Wal-Mart has to treat its workers better than it
treats its American workers. European labor laws are much tougher than
those in the U.S. Wal-Mart has to give its workers paid vacations (from
four to eight weeks depending on the country), better benefits and
working conditions. There is no “off the clock” work or wages not fully
paid for long periods of time. Wal-Mart has even agreed to collectively
bargain with a large German union.
In the country of its birth, Wal-Mart is wreaking havoc with worker
standards of living. It forces other large grocery chains to demand from
their unionized employees lower wages and benefits to be able to compete
with Wal-Mart’s race to the bottom. This direction is a historically
tragic reversal for the U.S. economy that before World War II featured
rising wages that increased consumer demand and improved livelihoods.
Increasingly, Wal-Mart’s immense arc of influence here is pushing wages
and benefits downward. With hundreds of thousands of its nearly 1.4
million workers making under $7.50 an hour, before payroll deductions,
(the average wage is between $7.50 and $8.50 an hour), the
average-on-the-clock workweek is only 32 hours. Since Wal-Mart defines
anyone working fewer than 34 hours per week as part-time, they have to
wait for two years before qualifying for health insurance whose
co-payment takes one-fifth of the average paycheck. Get the idea of what
is meant by the Wal-Mart way.
Waiting periods are key to Wal-Mart’s phony health insurance boasting in
their television ads. Impoverished employees don’t stay, with turnover
rates for these hourly employees at 50 percent to 100 percent at many
Wal-Mart is devilishly ingenious in thinking up ways to have taxpayers
fill in its wage gap. Put them on partial welfare, says the very well-paid company bosses who make millions of dollars each per year. These
workers are given advice on how to apply so that taxpayers subsidize
For example, in Georgia, over 10,261 children of Wal-Mart employees are
enrolled in the state’s Peachcare program for health insurance in
families meeting federal poverty criteria.
According to the report, Everyday Low Wages, one 200-person Wal-Mart
store could cost federal taxpayers over $420,000 per year. These costs
include subsidized lunches, health insurance and housing assistance,
federal tax credits and deductions for low-income families, among other
examples of Wal-Mart’s freeloading.
Enough is never enough for this corporation. It often demands
substantial local tax breaks from municipalities as a condition for
locating there. Although successful local opposition is blocking dozens
of Wal-Mart location plans, this corporate welfare King still manages to
escape its fair share of taxes, while local homeowner and small
businesses ante up for local public services and assume Wal-Mart’s
share. That is, small businesses that manage to remain in the hollowed
out Main Streets that are the aftermath of a Wal-Mart opening. Minimal thinking by consumers says Wal-Mart is a bargain; maximum
thinking starts adding up the local, national and global costs of this
Goliath depressor of purchasing power by workers.
For more information on these cost burdens, see the website
WalMartWatch.com which also shows how communities have stopped the