Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Democrats v. Wal-Mart Roundup

Chris Muir, Day by Day

George Will, Washington Post

Liberals think their campaign against Wal-Mart is a way of introducing the subject of class into America's political argument, and they are more correct than they understand. Their campaign is liberalism as condescension. It is a philosophic repugnance toward markets, because consumer sovereignty results in the masses making messes. Liberals, aghast, see the choices Americans make with their dollars and their ballots and announce -- yes, announce -- that Americans are sorely in need of more supervision by . . . liberals.

Before they went on their bender of indignation about Wal-Mart (customers per week: 127 million), liberals had drummed McDonald's (customers per week: 175 million) out of civilized society because it is making us fat, or something. So, what next? Which preferences of ordinary Americans will liberals, in their role as national scolds, next disapprove? Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet?

No. The current issue of the American Prospect, an impeccably progressive magazine, carries a full-page advertisement denouncing something responsible for "lies, deception, immorality, corruption, and widespread labor, human rights and environmental abuses" and for having brought "great hardship and despair to people and communities throughout the world."

What is this focus of evil in the modern world? North Korea? The Bush administration? Fox News Channel? No, it is Coca-Cola (number of servings to Americans of the company's products each week: 2.5 billion).

When liberals' presidential nominees consistently fail to carry Kansas, liberals do not rush to read a book titled "What's the Matter With Liberals' Nominees?" No, the book they turned into a bestseller is titled "What's the Matter With Kansas?" Notice a pattern here?
Robert Samuelson, Newsweek
No company should be above public scrutiny. But much of the political criticism of Wal-Mart is shallow and, if followed, undesirable. Wal-Mart doesn't pay high wages and benefits mainly because it's in an industry (retailing) where those are rare. In 2005, average hourly wages were $10.85 for food stores, $10.63 for clothing stores and $10.84 for department stores. As General Motors and Ford are now discovering, companies that pay above-market labor costs ultimately shrink and destroy jobs. The efforts of some local governments—notably the Maryland Legislature and Chicago city council—to mandate higher labor costs on Wal-Mart are shortsighted.

There may even be political pitfalls to this crusade. By Wal-Mart's estimate, 85 percent of Americans shop during the year at the chain; in opinion polls it generally receives high ratings. People are voting with their pocketbooks. On any list of major national concerns, the "Wal-Mart problem" would not rank in the first 50. Why, then, are some leading Democratic politicians spending so much time talking about it? People who ask that question may conclude that Wal-Mart, though a tempting target as a political symbol, is mostly a diversion from weightier issues where what politicians think and do really matters.
Caroline Baum, Bloomberg
``My problem with Wal-Mart is that I don't see any indication that they care about the fate of middle-class people,'' said Senator Joe Biden, Democrat of Delaware, at a rally in Des Moines, Iowa, last week, part of a union-funded 15- city ``Wake-Up Wal-Mart'' tour.

Biden's problem with Wal-Mart is that he probably doesn't spend much time at any of its stores. If he were among the more than 176 million customers to visit Wal-Mart's 3,800 stores in the U.S. or 2,600 abroad each week, he might have a better grasp on Wal-Mart's style of caring.


The bottom line is that Wal-Mart isn't holding a gun to anyone's head, forcing him or her to work under onerous terms. Employment at Wal-Mart is voluntary. In January, 25,000 people applied for 325 available jobs at a store opening in the Chicago area, according to the company. Not everyone thinks it's such a bad place to work.

When Wal-Mart opens superstores in rural America, it brings jobs to the community. It provides goods as cheaply as possible to Americans who wouldn't otherwise have access to such a wide array of merchandise at rock-bottom prices. It even offers health-care plans for as little as $11 a month in some areas.


While the Democrats may think Wal-Mart or any other large company owes its employees a living wage, full health-care benefits, paid vacation, maternity leave, child care or any other perk you can think of, that's not the responsibility of corporations in America.
Liz Peek, NY Sun
What is behind all the furor, and what exactly are Democratic candidates hoping to gain by jumping on the anti-Wal-Mart bandwagon? It's about unions, or the lack thereof, in Wal-Mart's employee ranks. A review of the major anti-Wal-Mart organizations campaigning against the company reveals that they are all union-funded.

For example, the group known as Wal-Mart Watch is backed by the Service Employees International Union, and its board is headed by Andrew Stern, the union head. Wake Up Wal-Mart is headed by Paul Blank, who last managed the Howard Dean campaign; his group is funded by the Food & Commercial Workers Union. And so it goes.

Not only are the unions understandably frustrated that they have been so ineffective in breaking Wal-Mart's ranks, they must also be tormented by the company's success. As the United States' economy tilts in favor of service enterprises from manufacturing, the ability of the unions to attract members has diminished. Logistically, if for no other reason, it must be harder to round up workers spread out all over the map in thousands of stores than those lumped all together in a factory.

The numbers are bleak for union organizers. According to the U.S.Department of Labor, 12.5% of the U.S. workforce belonged to unions in 2005, down from a high of 21% in 1983. In private businesses, the total is only 7.8%. Responding to the decline, the SEIU was among other groups exiting the AFL-CIO a year ago, led by Mr. Stern. It is no wonder that he is pressing his anti-Wal-Mart agenda; he needs to prove to his membership that life is better outside the mothership.
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