Friday, February 25, 2005
( 4:49 PM )
and for the people no longer. It is a government of corporations,
by corporations, and for corporations."
--Rutherford B. Hayes, US President, 1877-1881.
An insidious pattern has begun to take shape around union efforts in WalMart. No, not the old "oh, Walmart busts unions" - worse. Today 17 workers at the tire and lube department of the Walmart in Loveland, Colorado voted down the formation of a union. Why is this significant? Several reasons.
1. UFCW union supporters had at least half or more committments to vote to form a union, but after the 17-1 vote was cast, workers told union reps that they were just to scared. Walmart had threatened them so badly with retribution that they were simply to afraid to vote to organize and have barganing power. Walmart is known to have one of the best union-busting programs known to man, but they've now gone to new lows.
2. This same vote took place a week ago in Pennsylvania. Walmart claimed that it was the workers who didn't want a "third party" invading their wonderful Walmart family.
3. In Texas, in 2000, the only successful union vote in the US in Walmart, the meat cutters chose to join together to gain collective bargaining power so they could get the pay they were worth, benefits and treatment like human beings. Walmart's response: get rid of the meat cutting position in all its stores across the country. "We weren't planning to keep cutting our own meat anyway!" the behemoth claimed.
4. Three weeks ago, the first successful full-store unionization of a Walmart in North America took place. In Canada. Walmart will now close that store, putting 190 workers out of a job.
On Feb. 9, just hours after the Ministry of Labor announced its approval for the arbitration request, Wal-Mart Canada declared the store was unprofitable and planned to close it this spring.
“This latest action by Wal-Mart demonstrates, once again, the company’s systematic abuse of working families,” said UFCW President Joseph Hansen. “This is a company that prefers to spend millions and millions to dress up its image on TV, rather than treat workers with respect.”
In fact, Walmart is costing us taxpayers even more that most realize. The current issue of Dollars and Sense has statistics recently collected that show that billions of public service money (health care, food stamps, housing subsidies, etc.) go to Walmart employees. Because of Walmart's horrible treatment of its workers, we taxpayers are picking up the bill. That is in addition to the tax breaks Walmart negotiates for the property it takes over, the loss of local jobs, and the increased burden on American suppliers to Walmart so they can compete with China and Taiwan to supply Walmart and its "low, low prices" - which in turn put their workers at jeopardy.
Basically, Walmart is a one-store wrecking ball of the American economy and worker welfare. Why is it so hard to organize workers? In the current climate, there is not the public support anymore for workers - most of the industry and service workers who need unions are now in a minority of the population compared to other professionals who do not unionize and cannot sympathize with their right to collectively bargain in order to make a living wage and have benefits - things most of those professionals have without having to beg for them.
It's not just Walmart. My own husband was fired for union organizing. Unions across the country are being decimated. Just recently the governors of Indiana and Missouri have rescinded measures that extended state employees collective bargaining power. Of course the Bush administration has no qualms discussing the evils of unions - even trying to prevent new Homeland Security Department employees from being able to join the federal workers union. Teachers' unions have long been villianized - even called "terrorists" by Bush's last Secretary of Education, Ron Paige. If the two teachers' unions could simply act like unions and take collective action on behalf of their members and non-member teachers against even one issue like high-stakes testing, the system that is beating down our children would crumble.
When will the country once again embrace the professional's right to organize? Well, considering what it took the last time unions were publicly supported and joined in massive numbers, we may not be far from total meltdown. Of course then organizers were Communists and the Palmer Raids represented the government's position on the whole issue. Now, I'm sure union organizers will be terrorists and it won't be long until the government uses that excuse to continue to hurt workers.
How interesting that other western, capitalist countries' governments actually support unions or bargain with unions as part of the normal dynamic of commerce. But of course, once again, we sing loudly of our progressive freedom and then turn back to engage in draconian oppression of our own citizens, the very people who keep this country going. This way of operating can't continue indefinitely without something happening. I hope that something is good - and means more dignity for workers. It's about time.
p.s. Oh, by the way. Walmart is actually allowing union organizing in some of its new stores. In China.