Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Wal-Mart Insecurity

It's the world's richest retailer-noted for its cheap prices-and yet when it came to training and protecting its workers for a Black Friday crush, the Walmonster sat on its wallet. As the NY Daily News editorializes this morning: "There is no imaginable excuse for Wal-Mart's failure to station trained and equipped security personnel outside the door. The cost would have been a few thousand dollars, a trifle compared to the cost of a human life. It's simple: When you pump up the volume of crowds with doorbuster sales and early openings, you must shoulder the responsibility for the safety of customers and staff."

But who can really be surprised? When you have a corporate history of shortchanging your workers, why should you all of a sudden develop a concern for their safety? When your parking lots have been known as mugger-owned territory, why should customer safety all of a sudden become a priority?

Leave it to the NY Times, however, to blame the incident on-of all people-George Bush, and the over all American economy: "It was a tragedy, yet it did not feel like an accident. All those people were there, lined up in the cold and darkness, because of sophisticated marketing forces that have produced this day now called Black Friday. They were engaging in early-morning shopping as contact sport. American business has long excelled at creating a sense of shortage amid abundance, an anxiety that one must act now or miss out."

And more: "After 9/11, President Bush dispatched Americans to the malls as a patriotic act. When the economy faltered early this year, the government gave out tax rebate checks and told people to spend. In a sense, those Chinese-made flat-screen televisions sitting inside Wal-Mart have become American comfort food...Wages for most Americans have fallen in real terms over the last eight years. Pensions have been turned into 401(k) plans that have just relinquished half their value to an angry market. Health benefits have been downgraded or eliminated altogether. Working hours are being slashed, and full-time workers are having to settle for jobs through temp agencies."

The Times, a paper that has been vividly dramatizing just how bad the American economy is because of a desire to give the new president not only more breathing room, but a greater rationale for a more interventionist approach to governing, even went to the incredible length of titling its Wal-Mart article, "A Shopping Guernica Captures the Moment," comparing the death of the worker to the Spanish Civil War.

Let's keep the focus of blame where it belongs-and the Times finally does here, buried deep in the article: "Indeed, this was the situation for the unfortunate man who found himself working at the Valley Stream Wal-Mart at 5 a.m. Friday, a temp at a company emblematic of low wages and weak benefits, earning his dollars by trying to police an unruly crowd worried about missing out."

The United Food and Commercial Workers, the Retail Wholesale Department Store Workers, and the Alliance, have been leading the fight against Wal-Mart's abysmal record on worker rights. The tragedy last week underscores why the Wal-Mart workers need to be organized; it doesn't symbolize all that's wrong with America as a country.