Progressive Writers Bloc

Wal-Mart, Part II:
THE 2,000 lb Gorilla Goes to China

Uncle Bill Warner

Wal-Mart used to advertise that they "bought American" wherever they could. At the same time, they were expanding their China operations by setting up a fake distributor called P.R.E.L., whose main job was making sure shoppers did not connect Wal-Mart with their oriental suppliers. American suppliers went out of business, as you cannot compete with 18-cent-per hour wages. The factories Wal-Mart dealt with were told they had to sell their goods cheaply, so they started driving THEIR workers harder and paying them less. Soon, Wal-Mart decided to start their own factories, which allowed them to reduce workers wages even further. 60% of the largest factories in the world belong to Wal-Mart. That, plus the 3,400 Wal-Mart stores in the U.S. makes it a bit like the 2,000 lb. gorilla. It gets its way, and workers get less pay.

Now, we all like low prices, but there are hidden costs all the way from having to pay for the public assistance programs Wal-Mart associates are often forced into, to whole factories shutting down and putting people out of work as Wal-Mart moves their operations overseas. Pretty soon, there will be so many underpaid and unemployed workers in this country that the only place they will be able to afford to shop will be Wal-Mart. Henry Ford, back in the early days of the automobile, raised his workers pay to $5 a day, more than anyone else was paying, so they could afford to buy his cars. He got rich with that philosophy, and his workers were better off. I wonder if the policy of paying your workers too little to live on in this day and age is going to someday come back and bite Wal-Mart? People without money can't buy things, even at low prices. Would the economy of this country improve if each of Wal-Mart's 1,200,000 employees had an extra ten bucks in their pay envelope each week? Let's see, that would amount to roughly to 12 million bucks of buying power pumped back into the economy.

Everyone is affected by Wal-Mart in many ways they don't even realize. When a city pledges a couple of million bucks worth of infrastructure (roads, water line, sewage lines) plus tax breaks, that money is not available for schools or fire stations.

I wonder if former garment workers, who lost their decent jobs when the work went to China, can make it on what they earn part-time at Wal-Mart. I wonder what they would think selling $15.00 shirts made in Shanghai for which the garment worker was paid 18 cents?

One of the points made in the film, "Wal-Mart--The High Cost of Low Price" was that in their cost-cutting, sometimes the whole community is directly affected for the worse. At one store by a river, bags of fertilizer and pesticides, some of them broken, were piled into the parking lot without adequate cover (costs money) from the rain. They leaked poisons into the river from which the townspeople got their drinking water. In other towns, un-patrolled store parking lots, even the ones which had cameras had and have high crime rates including theft, kidnapping, rape, and even murder. All because it would cost Wal-Mart money to hire a motorized patrol officer. Thank goodness Porterville is not one of these!

The family of Sam Walton, Wal-Mart's founder, is the richest in the world. They are worth 90 billion dollars. Wal-Mart has given 1% of its wealth to charity. That may sound like a lot until you note that Bill Gates has given 58% of his wealth to charity! In all fairness, Wal-Mart did give $6,000 to an employee emergency benefit fund. While we're talking money, let's note that the company CEO, Lee Scott, makes $27,000,000 dollars a year while the average "associate" makes less than $14,000. The next time you hear a Wal-Mart commercial telling you that "people come first," you will certainly know which people they are talking about.

The next time you buy something at Wal-Mart made in one of their Chinese factories, think of the person who spent a 14-hr day in the factory to make $3.00 a day. Think of the Wal-Mart store employee who has to be on public assistance to make up for what Wal-Mart is not paying. Think of the 6 public relations firms they have in Washington lobbying the Congressmen they bought to "keep people first."

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