Saturday, October 22, 2005

Saturday Morning With Uncle Ben: What's Wrong With Wal-Mart

Uncle Ben only buys clothes and products that are made in America. He refuses to shop at Walmart because the majority of its merchandise comes from China. When he told me this I was astounded. I never suspected that I would find in Ben an ally in my battle against Walmart.

From November 13-19th, an organization called Wal-Mart Watch is launching its Higher Expectations Week. In my own little town, my NOW chapter is teaming up with the Unitarian Church, the Green Party, and the Democracy for America chapter to screen Bob Greenwald's new film, Walmart: The High Cost of Low Prices at our local UU church. We are doing our part for the Higher Expectations Week.

I hadn't yet (and still haven't) told Ben and my friday friends about this event. My fear was that most of these folks are sensitive to picking on Walmart. My town, like countless others, has witnessed Walmart come in and destroy local small business, create more traffic, offer low-paying jobs with little benefits, etc. But, where are you going to shop?: to boycott Walmart seems out of the question. Furthermore, Walmart is the biggest employer in town.

I really like Walmart Watch's campaign because it is not asking people to boycott Walmart, it is instead putting pressure on Walmart to actually do a better job.

So, back to Ben. When the conversation about the status of labor came up in this country I was really heartened to hear that Ben agreed with me that CEO's make way too much money. Their greed and the need to compete globally means that worker's wages go down. Ben asked, "where can a working class guy or gal get a job now that supports him or her?" Well, that is such an important question. And the answer is not good. If you are a strong back, hard worker, but not necessarily a scholar, you might end up at the Walmart or if you are lucky somewhere like Costco.

We learned this week that GM, which is the nation's largest health care provider is spending more for its employees health care plans than the steel in the cars. We have a real crisis on our hands.

I suggested to Ben that what this meant is we need a national health care plan because our businesses cannot compete unless we totally cut all benefits for workers. And, if we do that, then the you have the local, state and federal government pick up the tab. Ben didn't disagree with this proposal. Wow. We are finding common ground.

Ben and others at the table argued that the Unions are a real part of the problem because they are pricing American workers out of jobs. Here I part ways. But, before I disagree with this point, I will agree that many in the Unions got too powerful, corrupt and lost its mission to make labor strong. Who can disagree with that. There is and has been corruption in Unions. But, that does not signal to me that we should give up on a workers' movement. I think we need one now more than ever. I also think that more than the Union's demand for higher wages and benefits is to blame for workers getting priced out of a job. I would refer back to the issue of CEO salaries. Give me a break!

Anyway, I am happy to know that Ben and others at the table are as concerned about labor and as fed up with Walmart as I am. This gives me hope. Now, can I get them to show up to screening of Greenwald's movie?