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LOCAL News :: Democracy : Globalization : Health Care : Kansas City : Labor : Protest, Resistance and Direct Action

Wal-NOT Protests Highlight the Always High Costs

Wal-Mart protests in the Kansas City area were organized by ReclaimDemocracy.org/KC from January through October of 2005. They highlighted the corporate abuse of democracy by Wal-Mart, the largest corporation in the world.
Beyond the Wal Saturdays displayed citizens’ deep disappointment over Wal-Mart's poverty wages, worldwide exploitation of child and sweatshop labor, and the greed of the Walton family.

Donning Wal-NOT parody vests, concerned citizens protested at Wal-Mart stores in Roeland Park, Kansas City, MO, Lee's Summit and Kansas City, KS. Signs featured facts about Wal-Mart's flagrant global exploitation, including outrageous wage disparities. While Wal-Mart's CEO is pocketing $8,434 an hour meeting with Arnold Schwarzenegger, many Wal-Mart workers are applying for Medicaid after a 32-hour workweek because they are unable to work more hours or afford company health care deductibles of $1,000 on poverty wages of $14,000 annually.

Still, with all the systemic wage disparities, rampant sweatshop and child labor, and the Walton’s $90 billion bank account, Wal-Mart spokesperson Christi Gallagher issued a standardized rebuke to our concerns: “We’re not going to waste one calorie worrying about these unions and their desperate attempts to discredit Wal-Mart. It’s not even on our radar screen.”

Over 150 people turned out from a number of community organizations debunking Wal-Mart’s distasteful denial: Joining ReclaimDemocracy.org/KC and Interfaith Worker Justice were Democracy for America, the Greater KC Fair Trade Coalition, Missouri Provote, the Kansas Chapter of the National Organization for Women, the Green Party of Kansas City, the Cross Border Network, and many churches.

While the events aimed to persuade people to spend their money consciously and ethically, ReclaimDemocracy.org/KC’s Mary Lindsay also emphasized that child labor cannot be defeated by consumer choices alone: “Fundamental matters of justice should be addressed by citizens in a democracy because the destructive costs of child labor don’t show up on a price tag.”

At the national level, we must demand politicians create a democratic environment through legislation and rigorous enforcement. All retailers who sell products made in sweatshops by children and adults should face significant fines (minimum of $1,000) for each item sold and their executives should face criminal prosecution and prison time for authorizing or knowing about and failing to disclose such practices. Shoppers can try to avoid sweatshop-made clothing by looking for Made in the USA on apparel tags or buying clothing made by companies such as Patagonia and American Apparel.

With a domestic workforce the size of the active duty U.S. military, it is time Wal-Mart answers to citizens. Local governments should not provide Wal-Mart corporate welfare (tax breaks and subsidies) for new distribution centers and stores. When schools can’t afford basic supplies and send students out on fundraising drives while the Wal-Mart down the street received $10 million in subsidies, a clear message is sent where our priorities are.

Do not be fooled by Wal-Mart’s teacher of the year awards or its advertising that pretentiously parades all the money it gives away to schools or the Boys and Girls Clubs and the American Red Cross among many others. It is best to assume that if Wal-Mart’s motives were genuine in giving money to schools and nonprofit organizations, they wouldn’t be spending millions of dollars for glossy, Madison Avenue ads to broadcast generosity. Instead, they would be donating that advertising money to schools, churches, and nonprofit organizations.

How do we get Wal-Mart to answer to us and spend their money where it counts? You can start by always shopping at living wage retailers (example: Costco), the club to which Sam and his Wal-Mart family of stores do not subscribe. Wal-Mart is in no way the first or the last retailer to say they can’t and won’t pay a living wage because their profit margins don’t allow it. The fact is that if others retailers can and do, Wal-Mart MUST pay a living wage. If Wal-Mart’s pay and benefits were stellar, they wouldn’t be embarking on a multi-million dollar “Set the Record Straight” propaganda campaign. Paying employees a living wage will do more to silence concerned citizens than any ad campaign ever will.


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