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Aaron Regunberg: Walmart Organizing Could Represent New Economic Era

Saturday, November 24, 2012


Yesterday, Americans joined together to protest and picket at over 1,000 Walmart locations across the country in support of the rights of Walmart associates and warehouse workers, many of whom braved their employers’ explicit threats of retaliation to walk out of work on the retail giant’s biggest day of the year.

Although Walmart’s PR machine has been working overtime since Thursday night to minimize the importance of these actions, and has pointed out that company sales did not suffer as a result of the protests, a look at reports of the day’s events shows how significant yesterday’s cross-country protests really were. Some of the actions were huge, like the 1,500 protesters who converged on a Walmart store in Paramount, California, where several Walmart associates were arrested for civil disobedience. Some were on the smaller side—I was visiting my grandparents in the Hudson Valley for Thanksgiving, and we participated in a rally of around 50 folks at a Walmart in Fishkill, New York (hardly a hotbed of progressive activism). And while the thousands of actions represented a first step rather than an end to the campaign to win dignity and economic justice for the 1.4 million low-wage Walmart workers, the sheer scope of this nationwide phenomenon is difficult to overstate.

Something else that cannot be overstated is that the Walmart organizing campaign is a good thing for America. I think most people intuitively understand this. Even my cousin’s conservative husband (whose first words during our family’s Thanksgiving dinner were, “That New York Times is a Communist paper”) announced that the mistreatment of Walmart employees he’d witnessed while making deliveries during his trucking career made him agree that Walmart workers needed a union. And at the Fishkill Walmart action, there were a whole lot of cars driving by that showed their support for the rally by honking their horns and giving the thumbs up.

But every once in a while someone would open their window and yell “Get a job!” or one of those other things that angry uninformed people sometimes yell at groups of citizens publicly trying to make a difference. Rush Limbaugh went on a rant about Walmart workers’ “assault on capitalism,” and I am sure there are a lot of other people out there who reacted with anger upon hearing about the Black Friday protests.

That’s why it is so important to reiterate that the Walmart organizing campaign is a good thing for America.

After all, who is helped by Walmart workers’ poverty wages? Consumers? Hardly. A study released this year found that if Walmart were to pay its workers a closer-to-living wage of at least $12 per hour and pass the entirety of these costs onto consumers, the average Walmart customer would pay just 46 cents more per shopping trip, or around 12 extra dollars each year. Consumers would barely notice.

At the same time, studies have found that employees of Walmart are forced to utilize government assistance programs more than those at other large retail companies, meaning all of us taxpayers who are subsidizing Walmart’s poverty wages have much to gain from an improvement in their employee policies. Every time Walmart employees are forced to rely on the emergency room because they can’t afford the company’s stingy health insurance plans, that money comes out of your pocket. Every time Walmart workers need to go on food stamps because they can’t buy the food they need to survive even as they work full time, Walmart is passing that cost on to you and me. And all of this so that the six Walton heirs—who already own more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of our country combined—can make a little bit more in profits.

Why would any rational American support this state of affairs? Why would anyone be against giving 1.4 million hardworking Americans the opportunity to earn a living wage from their toil—a living wage that could then be recycled through our economy, creating more demand and more jobs? The efforts of Walmart associates to win the rights they deserve at work are good for them, certainly, but they’re also good for all of us and for the U.S. economy as a whole. So next time you happen to hear about an upcoming Walmart action, consider taking part yourself, because it’s not just the right thing to do. It’s the self-interested thing to do, as well.


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Here's one good summary of the day's protests: http://www.thenation.com/blog/171435/biggest-strike-against-biggest-employer-walmart-workers-make-history-again

Comment #1 by Aaron Regunberg on 2012 11 24

if you dont like it, dont shop there and dont work there

let the market dicate.

why dont you open a union store next to walmart and see how long it lasts.

the employees get screwed on day one when the pay increases go to union dues.

Comment #2 by jon paycheck on 2012 11 24

when was the last time you bought goods or services from a union shop?
you would never. it costs too much.

do as i say not as i do........

Comment #3 by jon paycheck on 2012 11 24

Hey Jon. Been to the Stop & Shop on Branch Ave. in Providence? It's where I usually do my grocery shopping cause it's the cheapest around. And it's union, UFCW, and it seems to be doing just fine.

I don't want to sound like a broken record, but I just have to keep telling you this over and over--there are real, knowable facts in the world, and just because they don't fit into your worldview doesn't make them disappear.

Comment #4 by Aaron Regunberg on 2012 11 24

stop and shop... too expensive for me..

do yourself a favor, stop by pricerite or aldi, you get double or triple the food as stop and shop.

and look at the clientele at pricerite and aldi.. its the only place those folks can afford food.

Comment #5 by jon paycheck on 2012 11 24

what would happen if everybody got paid 12 to 15 bucks an hour even cashiers at mcdonalds or dunkin donuts, wouldn't everything be more expensive? What would be the incentive to go to school if you coud make 35k at dunkin donuts and how much would someone get paid with a college degree 50 bucks an hour?

Comment #6 by anthony sionni on 2012 11 24

More likely that the “New Economic Era” is better represented by the Hostess Twinkie demise brought about by union overreach. For your edification see the two articles below. The first is on the failure of the Wal-Mart “strike” and the second discusses the general decline of private sector unions and growing worker opposition to unions.



Comment #7 by Michael Byrnes on 2012 11 25

Stop and Shop pricey. only buy things on sale there....and there a union shop...coincidence?
I'd like to buy more regular stuff there that's not on sale and help out, but I have to save for my car tax and my crazy property tax bill and my income tax bill next year, otherwise I'm all for everybody getting $15 an hour. Heck, make it $20 an hour.

Comment #8 by Odd Job on 2012 11 25

How could the fact that Walmart regularly hires the elderly or disabled, who would otherwise be unemployable, be overlooked. Let's remind ourselves that those I mentioned do not need benefits as they are already covered. But certainly this discussion cannot take place without considering some of the company's social positives.

Comment #9 by David Allen on 2012 11 26

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