Labor Advocate Online

KC Labor Newsletter
Week In Review, February 27, 2005
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by Bill Onasch, webmaster, kclabor.org

We Keep Coming Back To Wal-Mart
No, I’m not talking about as a shopper; the Royals were a genuine pennant contender the last time I was welcomed by a "greeter." I’m referring to the many and varied ways the world’s biggest private employer breaks in to the news.

• It was reported this week that the pride of Bentonville, Arkansas showed a profit of 10.3 billion dollars last year. Note: that’s not sales--which were 256 billion--but pure profits for the investors. Poor Target–a slightly upscale discount alternative preferred by middle class suburban shoppers who find Wal-Mart tacky--was a distant second in retail profits with only 3.2 billion. Costco, recommended by some as a "progressive" Big Box, was just a hair under a billion. Meanwhile, the humbled, merged legacy retail giants–Sears and K-Mart–struggle to avoid following Montgomery Ward and Venture into oblivion.

• A coalition of unions, Democrat office holders, and local business owners foiled Wal-Mart’s first attempt to penetrate the city limits of New York City with a Queens super-center.

• Wal-Mart opponents were not so successful in Kansas City. Despite an impressive public campaign mounted by fair trade advocates and unions the city council approved plans to pay Wal-Mart, with a TIF give-away, to take over the moribund Blue Ridge Mall. "We are not opposed to the redevelopment of the Blue Ridge Mall," said Judy Ancel, director of the Institute for Labor Studies. "We are just dreadfully disappointed it's based on Wal-Mart. The city is making a deal with the devil, and it will come back to haunt you."

• Wal-Mart Canada was ordered Friday by the Quebec Labour Relations Commission to stop intimidating workers who want to form a union. And in Winnipeg, Carolyn Sapp, who was Miss America in 1992, spoke to a union meeting about a class-action sex discrimination lawsuit against the retailer.

• Perhaps the biggest Wal-Mart story of the week came out of their tire & lube shop in Loveland, Colorado. It’s not often that you will see wire service reporters hanging around waiting for the vote count in a union certification election involving 17 workers. But thanks to a high profile--and consequently high stakes--campaign by the UFCW the whole world was instantly notified of the result. These organizing geniuses can take heart in the fact that they weren’t shut out–the union received one vote!

I don’t know what the UFCW could have been thinking about in this go-for-broke gamble. Such a widely publicized fiasco can only further weaken already dismal prospects of organizing this fortress of global exploitation through traditional methods.

Wal-Mart has become the company everybody loves to hate. Certainly the company’s actions justify widespread anger and disgust. They are ruthless in their treatment of labor, both directly in their employ here in North America, and indirectly through cut throat deals with their contract suppliers in China and elsewhere.

But this is no rogue company violating the ethics of Free Enterprise. To one degree or another most companies try to screw their workers. Small local outfits, who eagerly support the fight to keep Wal-Mart out of communities, are often even more vicious than the top dog.

What really sets Wal-Mart off from the rest of the pack is the extraordinary success they have enjoyed in squeezing workers and competing companies alike. They have become the model for global capitalist profitability. Those that try to replicate the model may or may not succeed. Those who reject or ignore the model will almost surely ultimately fail.

With the exception of the irresponsible, counterproductive incompetence shown by the UFCW in Colorado, these other actions reported above should be applauded. Harassing the enemy when you can’t take them head-on is better than putting up no resistance at all.

But we should have no illusions that such an approach will have much impact on Wal-Mart’s corporate dominance. In my opinion, we will effectively take on Wal-Mart only as part of a general upsurge of the working class against global capitalism. Of course we should use Wal-Mart as the most palpable example of how this latest stage of Free Enterprise is playing out. But we also need to rekindle class consciousness before we can make meaningful progress in reviving class solidarity, rejuvenating our unions, or building the political movement needed to take on Wal-Mart--and all the Wal-Mart wannabes.

Unexpected Traffic Jam
Rush hour congestion is not typically a problem in London, West Virginia. But last Thursday there was a mile-long traffic jam on US-60 highway as a group of miners, led by UMW president Cecil Roberts, sat down in the middle of the road. Roberts and nine others were arrested and hauled off to jail while hundreds of others remained to picket Massey Energy's Mammoth operation. They were there to protest the loss of health care for thousands of UMW families that resulted when Massey bought out bankrupt Mammoth. A company stooge dressed in black robes had voided Mammoth’s benefit obligations to make the take-over a sweet deal for Massey. "What we're trying to do is keep this issue of the unfairness of the bankruptcy code in this country on a national scale," Roberts said before his arrest.

Supreme Court To Review Change Time
The Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to consider whether meat-processing plants must pay their slaughterhouse workers for the time it takes to change into protective clothing and walk to their work stations. The 9th Circuit Court Of Appeals had awarded $3.1 million to 815 workers in Pasco, Wash–then employees of Iowa Beef, since acquired by Tyson who succeeded in recently breaking their union. During the appeal process workers there are required to gather their protective gear, don it in the plant's locker room and then prepare their work-related tools before entering the slaughter floor. The gear typically consists of a sanitary outer garment, boots, hardhat, goggles and gloves. However, workers are not considered clocked in until they show up, fully equipped, at the assembly line. They also aren't paid for the time spent changing out of the heavy gear for a 30-minute lunch break and at the end of the work day. The National Chicken Council and the American Meat Institute had urged the high court to hear the appeal.

As always much of this material is based on stories posted in the Daily Labor News Digest Monday through Saturday.

That’s all for this week.

Regards to all

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