Sunday, September 11, 2005


Wal Mart

The problem of Wal Mart has been getting a lot of press recently. I hope that sooner or later we hit a critical mass of people who just refuse to shop there. I do not wish to see Wal Mart destroyed. Instead, I would rather see Wal Mart changed their business practices and become a leader in doing what is right.

Deb Rousu doesn't consider herself a rabble-rouser. But when asked recently to sign a petition pledging not to shop at Wal-Mart, she grabbed the pen without hesitation.

"Why should the American public be helping a huge corporation pay for employee health care?" asked Rousu, a nurse from Plymouth who had heard that a lot of Wal-Mart workers use state-subsidized health insurance.

The petition Rousu signed -- and the fact that she was aware of the insurance debate -- is evidence of the anti-Wal-Mart crusade that is gaining momentum in Minnesota. In recent months, the state has seen teacher protests, door-to-door canvassing, booths at neighborhood festivals and petitions at the State Fair denouncing everything from Wal-Mart's labor practices to its "destruction" of small-town Main Streets.
karen kraska won't shop at wal-mart

Meanwhile a so-called "Wal-Mart bill" that would have required Minnesota to calculate which employers have the largest numbers of workers enrolled in MinnesotaCare, the state's subsidized health insurance program for low-income workers, came close to becoming law this summer.

Wal-Mart officials call many of the actions "publicity stunts" by groups with their own political agendas. They insist that workers are offered fair wages and benefits, and that their stores' presence improves the communities they serve.

The anti-Wal-Mart swell points to the unique role that Wal-Mart has come to play, social observers say.

"Wal-Mart represents everything that we fear -- or want -- at the same time," said Hy Berman, a retired University of Minnesota history professor.

"What we want is cheap stuff, sold to us efficiently. But many people fear the encroachment of big business, the destruction of Ma and Pa businesses."

Wal-Mart belongs to a handful of American corporations that, historically, have come to symbolize transformations in the economy, Berman said. At the turn of the century, it was U.S. Steel, he said. Then it was General Motors. In our current service economy, it's Wal-Mart.

"It goes from big steel to big auto to big box," said Berman.

Battle on many fronts

The Wal-Mart debate is growing as fast as the firm itself -- and it goes far beyond the usual T-shirts, mugs and bumper stickers. Books, conferences, TV documentaries, a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper series and countless media reports have examined the sweeping effects of the world's largest retailer, both good and bad. A new video documentary is slated for release this fall, and already organizers are setting up Twin Cities showings.

There are websites devoted exclusively to tracking Wal-Mart, with names like walmartwatch. com and The retailer counters with

Minnesotans have been eyeing the retailer for distinct reasons. Earlier this year, for example, about 75 members of churches around St. Paul's West Side gathered to talk about the effect that a Wal-Mart could have on shaping wage and benefit standards in their community.

"The businesses of west St. Paul have ethical standards around the way their employees are treated," said the Rev. Steve Adrian of St. Matthew's Catholic Church, which hosted the event. "Anything that could erode their benefits or lifestyle has a direct impact on this congregation.

"When it's time to negotiate contracts with Rainbow and Cub, what's to make them pay benefits that their competitor isn't paying?"

Meanwhile, members of the Sierra Club in Minnesota often show up at local government meetings where new Wal-Mart stores are being considered, said Karen Harder, who leads the club's water quality committee. The group doesn't focus exclusively on Wal-Mart, but it is very concerned about how stores like Wal-Mart affect urban sprawl, wetlands and other environmental problems, she said.

"You won't find our members chained to bulldozers," said Harder, "but if we hear about a plan [to build a store], we try to get involved as soon as possible."

I like Walmart. Also, small town businesses don't have a right to exist and don't really offer any innate advantages over large corporations. (The ones that do offer some advantage do stay open.)

People bitch because Walmart doesn't give their employees benifits and whatnot, but most small businesses pay their employees less than Walmart and don't offer benifits of any sort. We just let them off the hook becuase they are small and crappy and Walmart is culpable because it is large and rich.

If we really need healthcare and crap so bad, we should do the Canadian system instead of expecting big business to provide for the society. It is the Government's problem after all.
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