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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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Re: Wal-NOT Protests Highlight the Always High Costs

While I share the sentiments of wanting to do something about this I find that whats being proposed is missing the mark.

The important thing is that one recognizes the problems -which you do or you wouldn't be worried about giving them support.

These problems exist in myriad form in every industry to varying degrees. Wal-Mart is a very visable symbol of these problems and that is why it's almost become synonomous with them.

The same thing occurs with Starbucks and Mcdonalds. Starbucks and McDonalds are very visable corporations and as such are great symbols that can be effectively used to illustrate what can be changed to better working conditions, enviromental issues, international trade, farming, community etc.

Do not confuse the symbol for the thing.

Voting with ones wallet can only have limited effectiveness and is reactionary. Where do your dollars go from there? Target, Wild Oats, Whole Foods or others after the Wal-Mart model? Whats the difference on a practical and tangible level? Nothing.

It's also classist! What of the millions of working poor who haven't the luxurey of voting with ones wallet? Ten years ago, although I had the want to eschew Wal-Mart, I was just recently not homeless and hadn't the means- I couldn't afford much else.

What of the workers themselves?

You don't get at the bosses by harming the workers and you don't get at the crux by fighting a facade. You can point to it with the symbolic but if you want to make change you have to actively engage rather than a passive aggressive disengagement as a method of attack on one small instance of the whole.

The problem is capitalism. There is no such thing as kinder, nicer capitalism. It's necessarily expansionary and exploitative. It's MO is oppression.

The answer is one of organization! It's not the easy answer, It's the one that involves hardwork! But it's the only one offering an alternative that won't result in more of the same.

Organize! www.iww.org

I commend the efforts and I hope some of this criticism is taken constructively as I am not intending to hurt anyones ego.

In Solidarity, your fellow worker


Re: Wal-NOT Protests Highlight the Always High Costs


I more or less agree with your criticisms. At the same time, we have to recognize that although the two of us are ready to dismantle capitalism, such a task is a bit more daunting to the rest of folks. That's why one of the crucial goals of organizing is consciousness-raising. I don't feel reforms in of themselves are going to lead to a kinder form of capitalism but it is indeed empowering when folks recognize that they can make victories, however seemingly small they may be in the context of the broader struggle against capitalism.

Regarding classism, I don't feel like the campaign against Wal-Mart focuses upon the consumptive aspects. Rather, like a proper analysis must, it focuses upon the productive side: specifically, the relationship of workers to their employer.

To me, the idea is this: while the campaign against Wal-Mart will not ultimately lead to the collapse of capitalism (capitalism, as an unsustainable economic system, will collapse on its own-it's up to us to organize and be prepared for that collapse), it will both show the biggest employer in the United States that it cannot continue to violate the flimsy framework of labor and employment laws and, more importantly, it will raise consciousness in terms of people recognizing that we can take down these capitalist juggernauts and.

Re: Wal-NOT Protests Highlight the Always High Costs

Word Anthony.

As far as,

"Regarding classism, I don't feel like the campaign against Wal-Mart focuses upon the consumptive aspects. Rather, like a proper analysis must, it focuses upon the productive side: specifically, the relationship of workers to their employer."

I don't believe this is a primary aspect but indead, within the text of this article, this course of action (focusing on the consumptive) and manner of thinking is not only advocated but also criticized. This has been a major tenant of the Anti-Globalization movement in the US since at least '94 and has been in direct relation to Wal-Mart in particular and thus is a basis from where the present movement finds itself now.

This denies the reality of class and I'm saddened to see we haven't moved beyond it.

I'm hoping that talking will help the much needed evolution in tactics.

But I agree with and recognize what you've stated. Realiztion of community cooperative action and thus personal empowerment are increadibly important. I'm hoping to help along that consciousness raising through open and constructive dialogue concerning tactics and goals. I was intending to berate no-one nor come off as antagonistic. It's been a great fun action with plenty of exposure so far and it looks like the hard work paid of.

I've written a little bit about this in the past here but with an entirely different emphasis but I still find it useful although somewhat out of context,

"while the Wal-Mart issue is somewhat mainstream now, it has been seen as passe in activist circles for a while now..Marxist variants in particular.

It's arguable that one shouldn't care what the activist community thinks (especialy when it's because it stems from an elitist politik) and that when the people are roused and by their own recognition of an issue or have found within themselves a concern or cause that they are perhaps ready to address, we should be there to frame the debate and help folks consider all the bits in order that they can make an informed decision.

All those groups mentioned have worked for years to bring the Wal-Mart issue to the fore front of the public mind and now that we've accomplished this awareness, groups want to denounce it because it hasn't taken the shape they wanted. As far as I can tell the reason for this is because of petty selfish elitism. It's authoritarianism and hierarchical relationships showing their true nature (ah..I am aware that I frame things and see things through an anarchist lens). One can't force change from above because people are autonomous creatures.

Chuck pointed out that it's a class reductionist point that has become the stumbling block to this issue. It's true! (but the fact remains)

The major complaint is that the public reasoning has lead to a proposed solution of either "voting with ones dollars" or shopping at alternatives (i.e. Target) coupled with a hodge podge of nationalist, laborist reasoning.

Neither one of these related "solutions" addresses the real issue nor do they even come close to solving the problem. They are reactionary to a fault. No doubt about it. Some of this can be traced back to us as an activist whole. We are the ones whom were struggling to define this part of the anti-globalization movement and what we accomplished was pointing out the problem without offering an informed solution and exit plan.

Well we succeded and now the authoritarian groups want to blame it on the publics lack of vision and general ignorance while using it to further illustrate why one needs an institutionalized "leadership" to guide (perhaps the word vanguard is out of fashion but....).

While it's true that these reactionary solutions would harm workers of this corporation world wide and that shoping at Target ignores the crux which is capitalism and corporatism, the fact that this has become a mainstream issue offers us hope and bolsters/argues that all of our hardwork hasn't been in vain.

Those from leftist traditions propose a mixture of goverment regulation with organizing the workers and while this is great for their political tradtion (I dissagree with these solutions as I beleive that hierarchy and authority are the problem and that these solutions will result in more of the same) the American public doesn't have the tools with which to make such a class based decision. To berate that abstarction and blame the average Jane and Joe is just insane on so many levels. It's also incredibly elitist. They haven't the same activist education and truthfuly we're a fringe- something extra to society while at the same time existing within and contrary to many a subjective world view we're not THE "most important".

It is fallacious to say that as an abastract whole we as a people aren't able to make a good decision or an educated, informed decision. This "problem" with the public conception of solutions to the Wal-Mart issue shows a flaw in our activism and provides a unique learning experience for us. It would be a great folly to simply denounce everything associated and ignore the blaring problem with our tactics. We obviously need better skill sharing consisting of education camapaigns that frame the debate in such a way that it is obvious that decentralized worker self management and worker possession of the means of production at local community levels (don't forget an eye to the World!) with focused efforts on community and social networks are in our best interest as humans. Lets punish the bosses not our fellow workers. Lets leave the petty politiking and (old)left behind. Let's get to work!"

Hope I've clarified!

In solidarity -Vlad


Re: Wal-NOT Protests Highlight the Always High Costs

These are great points. Of course the focus on consumption plagues most sectors of the left (or whatever one chooses to call current radicalism-I find it most notable regarding consumptive habits with respect to eating).

There was in fact some conversation regarding the 'alternatives' issue (the Target phenomenon you refer to) but any of the folks organizing the action or, more specifically, the conference, more than recognized that other big-box stores are in no way an alternative.

Regarding the weekend as a whole, I'm sure most who attended any of the organizing workshops felt like it paid off. I participated in a workshop on labor and employment law that I felt was beneficial to me as well as the attendees, particularly with respect to the current (lacking) state of labor law.

Re: Wal-NOT Protests Highlight the Always High Costs

It looks like a good campaign with a lot of promise!

That major media outlets carried significant amounts of the Hazmat suit thing was great!

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