A Plan To Bring Wal-Mart To Heel

A discussion started by eRobin of Fact-esque in Comments to the post “Taxpayers Paying for Wal-Mart’s Low Wages” centered around her contention that WM was so paranoid about even the tiniest dip in their sales that a boycott aimed at forcing them to improve their mega-substandard wages and working conditions could prove effective.


I still say those rotten bastards are more nervous than they let on. June’s numbers stunk and they were panicked. (July’s are up again, which depressed and angered me) People start paying even a little bit of attention to WalMart’s myriad crimes and they start a HUGE PR campaign to bolster their image. I swear if we could organize a one day boycott and get it rolling to maybe a weekend a month for three months, they’d go crazy.

I was doubtful.

Have you ever worked for one of these guys? PR is what they do instead of fixing the problem. Look at their defenses: half-assed, cold, no sense of blatant hypocrisy. It’s company policy and that’s that. A boycott might get them to make some cosmetic changes but as soon as it was over and things quieted down they’d go back to what they were doing all along–until the next boycott.

eRobin stood her ground.

I’m hanging on to my memory, which may be flawed, of how desperately WM launched this latest PR campaign when faced with just a little bad press – they only ever get a little bad press. I feel like if we, and by we I mean “organized” labor – were able to get people to stay out of WM on a regular basis, the press would pick up on the battle and we’d be able to see what would happen from there.

It seems I should lay out my position–and my strategy–more fully, so here it is:

A boycott could be more than just a ‘catalyst’–it could be a major prong in a successful attack. My point is only that I have seen people concentrate on boycotts to the exclusion of every other tactic, and while that can be successful, it wouldn’t be with these guys. They’re hard-core. Their response to the bad press was to launch a PR campaign even as they denied the charges categorically. That’s going to continue to be their ‘solution’, and the more desperate they feel, the more money they’ll pump into that PR. It will take months if not years of boycotts before they finally admit the PR isn’t working and shift gears.

Here’s the strategy that I think would have a good chance of defeating them permanently and changing the way they do business:

A co-ordinated 3-pronged attack.

Prong One: A boycott that included (and might even be backed by) local businesses a) suffering because of Wal-Mart’s bargain-basement pricing structure and their tactic of taking losses to sell under cost until such time as they’ve wiped out the local competition, and b) struggling with their own labor force as they try to cut salaries in order to compete. Had the union in CA during their negotiations promised to mount an all-out effort to unionize WM or go under trying, the supermarket chains’ managements might very well have been more willing to bargain along sensible lines.

The boycott’s major functions would be to a) frighten WM with the potential of massive consumer backlash rooted in the local communities; and b) to attract the attention of the press. Boycotters should make a point of identifying local stores or chain stores in the area that are either unionized or just pay reasonable wages, and picket various WM’s with signs telling shoppers they have much better alternatives. The best places to do this are at new stores in areas where competition still exists, or when WM is trying to open a new site, as they are in NYC. Their strategy has been to either keep coming back to communities that tell them No until they’ve worn everybody down, or find a site a few miles away in a different town more receptive to their tax dollars. A prime advantage of the boycott would be its ability to follow them: continue to hassle them no matter how often they come back, go right down the road with them and bring the fight to the alternate locations as well. You can’t give them an out; a wide-ranging and flexible boycott could cut off that line of retreat–and that is critical.

Prong Two: As the boycotts attract media attention, a union with guts and some money (SIEU would be perfect) would start a national and very noisy campaign to unionize WM workers–all of them. Our media ignores unions for the most part (the supermaket strike was an exception), but the boycott would make that impossible, allowing the union to publicize WM’s illegal and fraudulent labor practices (the boycotters would be saying the same things, of course).

Prong Three: And most important of all, groups of consumer advocates, business leaders tired of WM’s shit (believe me, they exist), and–hopefully–lawyers, would beseige the various govt dept’s involved and politicians who have voted against labor rights with petition drives and picketing and publicity criticizing their decisions and calling for the Congress to act to protect workers’ rights. The experiences of the 9/11 FSC would be very instructive as a template for how to do this. The main thing is to force the Labor Dept and as many politicians as possible, whether pro or con, to go on the record. Even The Hammer could expect a vocal backlash if he supports WM against workers.

If you were smart about picking your targets, this could be done by a relatively small base group and a sizable force of part-timers with specific goals. It would cost money but I’m willing to bet that competitors like the CA supermarket chains would be willing to contribute once the boycotts started getting attention and the union(s) started going after them; and the union(s) would also need to be prepared to shell out some dough that isn’t strictly-speaking directly related to organizing. It all needs to be understood as a single campaign.

Anyway, that’s how I’d do it. Feel free to criticize.


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