As we enter the final weeks leading up to the US mid-term elections, interested parties are pulling out all the stops to make sure their candidates win. One such interested party is the corporation Wal-Mart, which newspapers just revealed plans to hand out election materials about certain candidates to its more than one million US employees.
But judging from what happened when Wal-Mart got involved in the recent presidential election in Mexico, the company may want to think twice. Since it was revealed that Wal-Martís top shareholder illegally made campaign contributions that supported the right-wing candidate Felipe Calderon of the PAN, Wal-Mart has become the number one corporate target of progressive Mexican activists. In the last month alone, thousands of activists in Mexico City, Puebla, Guadalajara, Queretaro, and Xalapa have staged rowdy protests inside Wal-Mart super centers. Every weekend sees another city hop on the anti-Wal-Mart bandwagon.
Itís not that there wasnít anti-Wal-Mart organizing in Mexico before. Local activists, business people, and academics tried and failed to prevent Wal-Mart from opening a store within site of Teotihuacan, the oldest archeological site in Mexico. They succeeded in stopping Wal-Mart from opening in the towns of Patzcuaro and Atizapan de Zaragoza, a suburb of Mexico City. Despite this, Wal-Mart has become the largest employer in Mexico, with 140,000 employees and some 850 ďretail units.Ē
Mexican progressives are concerned about the low wages that Wal-Mart pays its employees, the low prices it pays to its suppliers (for both agricultural and manufactured products), and the disregard Wal-Mart has for the cities and communities where it establishes its stores. But even worse, Mexicans have realized that just as it does in the US, Wal-Mart supports the politicians and policies that not only donít bring Mexican working people prosperity, but make the people poorer than they were before.
The recent escalation of anti-Wal-Mart activism was caused by Wal-Mart top stockholder Manuel Arangoís financial contributions to a smear campaign against left-wing presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the PDR. Under Mexican electoral law, corporations are not supposed to fund campaigns supporting or opposing candidates, but this didnít stop a number of corporations from doing just that, through their corporate officers and shareholders. Lopez Obrador of the PDR, who ended up losing to Calderon in the hotly contested election, called for a boycott of corporations that illegally supported PANís campaign. These included Coca Cola, Pepsi, Kimberly Clark, Televisa, and, of course, Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart is accused of not only giving money to the pro-PAN forces, but also distributing campaign literature to Wal-Mart of Mexico employees.
Because Wal-Mart is everywhere, it has become the main target of these anti-corporate protests. Every weekend in a different city, the PRD has organized thousands of people to enter Wal-Marts, fill up shopping carts, take them up to the registers as a group, and then begin chanting and raising a ruckus. The goal is to hurt the corporation in its pocketbook, because it has hurt Mexican progressives by supporting neo-liberal economic policies and the politicians who promote them.
These actions should give hope to anti-corporate globalization activists everywhere. Wal-Mart represents the worst face of corporate globalization, and the company is expanding throughout the world, especially in developing countries. But if Wal-Mart planned to use the model it developed in Mexico when it enters other markets, the recent protests may have thrown a monkey wrench into that plan. Now anti-Wal-Mart organizers in the United States have an ally on the other side of the border. The recent mobilization opens the possibility of a bi-national, if not international, campaign against Wal-Mart.
Ruben Garcia runs the Wal-Mart Mexico program at Global Exchange, www.globalexchange.org. Andrea Buffa is the Global Exchange campaigns director.