As the busiest shopping day of the year – Black Friday or Buy Nothing Day, depending on your views – approaches, a very interesting development is occurring in the largest retailer in the world, Wal-Mart. It seems the employees of this giant are gaining more and more traction in trying to unionize their jobs and have planned a mass walkout on the biggest moneymaking day for the corporation. The question is, will it work? Maybe is probably the best answer that can be given at this time.
Wal-Mart has long fought the unionization of its workforce with tactics that some would view as borderline illegal, such as restricting “the dissemination and discussion of pro-union views, threatened to withhold benefits from workers who organize, interrogated workers about their union sympathies and sent managers to eavesdrop on employee conversations.” A couple of the most notorious actions are documented in one of the linked articles:
Butchers at a Wal-Mart supercenter in Jacksonville, Texas, voted to form a union in 2000 — the first time employees had done so. But soon after that, Wal-Mart eliminated butcher departments in its stores across the country, he said. It has been reported that Wal-Mart said it got rid of its meat department as a cost cutting measure.
A similar thing happened when workers at a Quebec store attempted to unionize in 2005, Bianco said. Wal-Mart closed that store a few months after that.
Wal-Mart rebuts the talk of unionization with one of the most ignorant points of view anyone could put forward. “A Wal-Mart spokeswoman said the number of workers who are raising concerns is very small and don’t represent the views of the vast majority of its workforce of 1.3 million.” Yes, because the vast majority of laborers around the country, or the world for that matter, would want no part of higher wages or better benefits, particularly the ones working for minimum wage with no benefits or close to it. I hope my sarcasm didn’t slap you in the face too hard.
The retailer is prepared to retaliate and has now stated, “If [the store employees] are scheduled to work, we expect them to show up and do their job. If they don’t, depending on the circumstances, there could be consequences.” But the movement to unionize is slowly growing and it seems an inevitable change may be coming. At some point, potentially very soon with actions like these, there will be a breaking point where the union movement into Wal-Mart will be unstoppable.
But, again, will it work? Wal-Mart has gone to drastic measures to stop the unionizing of its workforce and we must wonder how much farther they will be willing to go. Could they even go so far as to close up their shop and say they are done doing business all together? Seems like a crazy thought and is probably unlikely but is worth considering.
The Walton family, the owners of Wal-Mart, certainly have little to worry about. As stated in the link, “In 2011 six members of the Walton family have the same net worth as the bottom 30% of American families combined.” Which leads to a bigger issue of the effect of enormous income inequality in the country and how situations like these could play out. We have seen the threats of CEOs who warned their employees about voting for Obama in the election and closing their businesses in the event of his reelection. If the owners at the top are so wealthy and have little incentive to continue working, how can people take any action toward improving their working conditions even in the (arguably) freest nation in the world?
So, whether you will be out shopping or staying in to avoid the chaos of the day or maybe even staging a peaceful protest to improve your standard of living, there will be one very fascinating story to watch in terms of the battle between the rich and the normal this Friday. Will Wal-Mart finally cave in to the demands of their workers’ plea for better wages and benefits or will they once again use immoral and deplorable tactics to suppress the poor in the United States? Only time will tell.