Working For The Man!

In many ways Wal-Mart is a mixed bag (no pun intended!). The company employs 1% of America’s workforce, 1.4 million people. That’s a good thing. They also support “Second Harvest” and contribute to local charities where their stores are located. And they have given the organic foods industry a huge shot in the arm. Those are all good things. But they refuse to allow their employees to unionize and they pay them an average of $12.00 an hour. That amounts to $24,960.00 a year at a time when the poverty levels for a family of four is $23,050.00. Those are not good things. As I say, it’s a mixed bag. And to make matters worse, the family of Sam Walton who founded the company is rolling in dough — among the wealthiest people in this country. One does wonder why they couldn’t put pressure on the company to shell out a bit more money to keep their employees higher above the level of abject poverty. But that’s just me.

Contrast this with Whole Foods which also prohibits unions among its employees, but pays them $15.00 an hour which raises their annual income to $31,200.00 — more than $6,000.00 above the levels of the Wal-Mart employees. They also have stock shares for many of their employees. These salaries will not put these employees in a class with Sam Walton’s offspring. But the fact that Whole Foods obviously cares about their employees and wants them to be loyal and happy workers is a breath of fresh air — and sets that company apart from Wal-Mart with its “profits-first” approach to retailing. And, as we know, Wal-Mart is famous (infamous?) for running Ma and Pa stores out of business. So it’s a good thing (note sarcasm here) they are able to hire back many of the people they put out of work! But, then, as supporters of “Second Harvest” they may also be feeding many of those people as well — not to mention their own employees.

It is embarrassing and not something we can be proud of when the largest retailer in this country (the world?) gains its reputation at the expense of the people that are forced to work for the very company that has shrunken the job pool and made the box stores one of the few places where people can earn enough to put food on the table. But of greater concern is the shrinking middle class which has historically kept the capitalist ship afloat. Paying the average worker starvation wages doesn’t do much to help shore-up the middle class and support a struggling economy. I dare say the CEO of Wal-Mart, who assuredly considers himself a loyal American, hasn’t thought about that.

More importantly, Marx talked a great deal about exploitation but he failed to account for the growing middle class, which lessened the likelihood that there would be a revolution as he predicted. But as the middle class shrinks America begins to look more and more like the capitalist model Marx targeted in the nineteenth century with the very rich exploiting the very poor. And the very poor increasing in numbers and growing impatient.

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13 thoughts on “Working For The Man!

  1. Interesting post. Walmart has also done some good with the environment. They are such a study in contradictions. But you are right about the shrinking of the middle class. The same thing is happening in Argentina and it will be interesting to see where it leads. I fear it is not leading us in the direction of economic growth and stability.

  2. Wal-mart may be doing some good things (and should be commended for them), but they are deserving of most of the criticism directed their way. They were highlighted in “Nickeled and Dimed in America” as perpetuating poverty with their low wages and poor health care which few people can afford. I saw a statistic a few years ago that showed 6% of Wal-mart employees are on Medicaid. These are employed individuals. Then you have the largest class action lawsuit ever by female workers against them for unfair pay practices – they were able to use their clout to put a lid on the impact. Then, you have what you note above, driving small retailers out of business, not to mention treating suppliers like crap. I could go on. Momma E has a great post this week on “moral capitailsm” which is excellent that could be directed at the Flying W. That is my 2 cents. Thanks for the post. BTG

  3. Only one problem with your statement, “That amounts to $24,960.00 a year at a time when the poverty levels for a family of four is $23,050.00.” That presumes that the person working at Walmart is the only one in the family who works. Such has been extremely rare since the end of World War II when the desire for material possessions and keeping up with the Romneys caused both parents to go to work, and children, too, as soon as they reached employment age.

  4. In btg685’s comment, he says that “6% of Walmart employees are on Medicaid.” I’m surprised it’s that low. Have you ever seen a teenager, or even someone in their 20s or 30s, even 40s, working at Walmart? I haven’t. Most of the employees at the Walmarts near me are elderly people retired from their previous employment. Some whom I know spent 20+ years in the military. They are now in their 40s and 50s, retired from the military with that nice military retirement income, yet working full time at Walmart to make even more money. I see nothing wrong with that.

    I retired when I was 38, but after a year of retirement and simply laying out on San Diego’s beaches, I got bored and went back to work. I’m pretty sure I’m going to be working until I die. Gives me something legitimate to do, regardless of the pay. Look for me at Walmart when I’m 65 or 70!

  5. Walmart is referred to by its competitors as the “evil empire.” They run a Japanese model of business which is to kill their enemy and they do so with their aggressive supply chain and hiring practices keeping costs low. The firm perpetuates poverty with its pay practices which leave healthcare unaffordable. The Medicaid figure is old, so it may be worse now. BTG

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