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12/06/2004

More news on Wal-Evil-Mart

Wal-Mart Seeing Red: In an attempt to mask its anti-union, anti-worker policies, Wal-Mart this week trumpeted its decision to allow its workers in China to unionize. The company tried to say its decision about China was proof that it "does not have a global anti-union policy." The reality: Wal-Mart was compelled to accept the union by the Communist Chinese government. The union itself is nothing but a "toothless management-controlled body that works mostly to prevent conflict." Wal-Mart's anti-union stance is world-famous. It has helped depress its workers' wages and reduce their health benefits – all to pad the company's bottom line. Read more about Wal-Mart's labor practices at PBS Frontline's special website.

CHINA'S STATE-RUN UNION IS NOT A REAL UNION: The New York Times notes that "unions in China operate differently from independent unions in the United States or elsewhere." For instance, rarely "do unions in China oppose management or press for higher wages or better working conditions." One Chinese labor expert said, "Setting up a union won't make much difference on workers' wages because in most cases the union in China acts as a subsidiary to the employer and rarely represents the workers and fights for higher wages."

WAL-MART HAS ADMITTED IT IS ANTI-UNION: The New York Times reports that Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer with about 5,000 stores worldwide, "has not acknowledged a single union within its operations in the United States, and has vigorously opposed the formation of unions within Wal-Mart." In fact, as an employee handbook documents, Wal-Mart explicitly instructs its managers to bust unions. The company guidebook states that "Wal-Mart is opposed to unionization of its associates. Any suggestion that the Company is neutral on the subject or that it encourages associates to join labor organizations is not true." Read the handbook here.

WAL-MART ADDICTED TO CHEAP CHINESE MERCHANDISE: Wal-Mart's efforts "reflect a bow to Chinese law more than a change in Wal-Mart's approach to unionization worldwide." Why is Wal-Mart so eager to placate the Chinese government? Wal-Mart's "inventory of stock produced in China is expected to hit US $18 billion this year." According to Xu Jun, Wal-Mart China's director of external affairs, "If Wal-Mart were an individual economy, it would rank as China's eighth-biggest trading partner, ahead of Russia, Australia and Canada." Wal-Mart imports so much merchandise from China to the United States that it has "largely influenced the US trade deficit in China, which is expected to reach $150 billion this year." (You can get a poster by acclaimed artist Ben Edwards illustrating Wal-Mart's reliance on China with a donation to the American Progress Action Fund.)

WAL-MART AGGRESSIVELY COMBATS U.S. UNIONIZATION: Past efforts to unionize Wal-Mart have met with vicious tactics by the corporate giant. For instance, meat-cutters at a Wal-Mart store in Jacksonville, Texas, won union representation in 2000, but the "company shortly thereafter said it would no longer use meat cutters and would sell only prepackaged meat in all stores." In Canada, workers successfully unionized a store in Québec, but immediately after, Wal-Mart "announced that the store was not meeting sales projections" and that it might have to close the facility. When other Canadian efforts to unionize were thwarted, Wall Street reacted to the news with "glee."

U.S. WORKERS STILL FIGHTING TO UNIONIZE WAL-MART: The Denver Post reports "a group of auto shop employees at Loveland's Wal-Mart Supercenter are seeking union representation in their dealings with the retail giant, which has historically thwarted organization efforts by its workers." Specifically, "nine of the 17 workers at the store's Tire and Lube Express had signed cards indicating their interest in unionizing," and the effort will now move to the National Labor Relations Board for certification.

SEIU CHIEF UPS THE ANTE: Despite Wal-Mart's efforts, the labor movement is not backing down. Andy Stern, head of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), earlier this year "called for setting aside $1 million of SEIU money to finance an effort to organize Wal-Mart." Along with other labor union leaders, "he believes that the Wal-Mart business model - low wages, relatively few benefits and downward pricing pressure on suppliers - poses the most serious threat to organized labor in the private sector." At a meeting of labor, community and academic leaders earlier this year, Stern said, "Wal-Mart provides a chilling example of the damage that low-wage, nonunion corporations can wreak, and their business model is going to set the standards for our children unless we do something now…Wal-Mart is the sewer pipe through which good jobs are being flushed."

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