Colleague Sarah Jones has already pretty much written about the nuts and bolts of what makes Walmart one of the most employee-exploiting corporations in the country, if not the world. Sarah also backgrounded Black Friday’s national action against the retail giant.
As one who attended an Upstate South Carolina demonstration as a participant and Politicus contributor, I’m going to share my experiences both outside and inside one of the local Walmart ‘Superstores’ (219,000 square feet). I arrived about a half-hour past the appointed 8:00 AM start time. I drove around the huge parking lot looking for my fellow demonstrators. I looked for people with homemade signs and lettered T-shirts. I didn’t spot a single soul of that description. After dodging in and out Black Friday parking lot traffic, I finally saw what appeared to be a group of brave progressive and caring demonstrators lined up close to one of the entrances. There were about 10 people.
As I joined the chilled group, I recognized a young and energetic former state union organizer (a more thankless task does not exist in union-bashing, Right to Work, South Carolina). He now represents an advocacy organization headquartered in Washington D.C. A lady environmentalist friend was there too with her equally activist boyfriend. A 20-something ex-campaign worker whose candidate was trampled by an uber right-winger carried a sign as well. Another Walmart worker supporter was a Hospice RN. I didn’t know the others, but they were all quite friendly and supportive of the cause. Need I say that no Walmart workers braved the corporate elements to join the group?
The signs were as homemade as you get. Colored-cardboard 3 X 4 Sharpie-lettered statements of “Stop Bullying Workers who speak out, S.C. loves Walmart workers and Standing with Walmart Strikers” were typical sentiments. A petition was presented to incoming customers, asking for support for workers who are pathetically underpaid with the barest of bare bones health coverage. At least 90% of those requested to sign, did so.
About 30′ from our caring crew was a Walmart representative snapping photos; at least dozens in the aggregate. She was also scribbling on a pad. The acts would have done a fascist Nation-state proud. Ever-curious I ambled across the drive to ‘chat’ with this poor man’s Avedon.
She was a rather hard-edged looking gal, pretty much the type management would send out for such a distasteful chore. I asked what I thought to be an innocent opener, “how long have you been here?” “I’d rather not say” she mumbled. I then asked her what she was doing. “I’m just taking notes. If they (presumably us) behave, they can do anything they want to.” That statement turned out to be somewhat erroneous. I tried to ask her some other questions. In response she told me she wasn’t answering any more questions. She suggested I call 1-800 walmart for any inquires I might have. “They’ll answer all your questions.” Knowing that to be almost certain horseshit, I rejoined the others, making sure my best side was exposed to her direction.
Who knows, my wrinkled old visage might now be posted in that Superstore basement or bathroom or some backroom where Walmart’s “Upstate’s most wanted” posters are hung. Or maybe the pics are digitalized off to a Corporate Headquarters database, kept at the ready in some subterranean war-room. I was definitely on their radar.
After a few more minutes of posing for Ms. Hard-edge, we decided to up the ante and do what every customer was doing on that black Friday. We entered the store. Once inside, the leader of our pack requested to speak to a Manager. None was forthcoming. Walmart personnel acted like Hitler and his top Nazi Generals had walked through the door looking for managers to toss into freight cars. Finally a Manager appeared; maybe THE manager. I know we want women to break through the glass ceiling but this 60-ish stone face looked liked she had eaten the glass after shattering it. I skulked back to the rear, not wanting to be in the line of fire of her corporate-speak spittle.
It was explained that our group would like to present a petition with assorted grievances signed by numerous customers as they entered the store. “I will not accept your petition” we were told. We were ordered to leave and, sure enough, a couple of Security Officers arrived. It was emphasized that there was plenty of room for the customers to walk the aisles and we weren’t bothering anybody. This had no impact on this biatch. You don’t rise to the top rungs of a local Walmart store without knowing how to handle social gnats who would have the store treat the help like, oh, shall we say, human beings?
I got a kick out of the lady with the petition who told the hard-ass manager that she’d just “lay the petition over here” and placed it on the nearest shelf. This harmless bit of business really seemed to piss off the ‘B’ in Superstore X. She summoned the cops to get on with their duty and get rid of The Great Unwashed troublemakers. There was a white security guy and a black security guy who both seemed somewhat apologetically bemused by the whole scene. I walked with them while exiting and we chatted about the upcoming South Carolina, Clemson football rivalry game. After breathing refreshing fresh air once more, we split and went our separate ways.
There was no media in evidence, even though the newspaper had been notified repeatedly. The next day there was one newspaper AP reference to the national event, with nary a hint of a local protest. The piece was position-edited to be at the very back pages of the paper with a special emphasis on a quote from a Walmart spokesperson, assuring AP that silly protests over wages and treatment of workers notwithstanding, this Black Friday was the “best ever.” Could the recent 28-page glossy Walmart insert have anything to do with the paper’s somewhat indifferent local treatment of the greedy retail giant.
Oh, yes, I did call 1-800 walmart. I went through about a dozen electronic prompts. I reached not one human. So I called Bentonville headquarters and had a chat with someone in customer service. I was told that Walmart had zero full-time in-store employees save for Managers and its headquarters personnel. Apparently even a part-timer can be covered by a health insurance company called Starbridge. Look ‘em up when you get time. The company is a limited-benefit outfit with laughable and virtually meaningless coverage.
Walmart doesn’t pay shit. Their imports and their presence in a community results in a net job loss and mom and pops close their doors like a serial killer was on the loose. And that’s what Walmart is, a job serial killer. The Walton family net worth exceeds $100 billion. These 5 or 6 people make more than roughly 45 million American households combined. And they own a little piggy bank called Arvest Bank Group with an additional $11 billion in assets in case they need to loan themselves a few bucks.
Is this really what Sam Walton envisioned?