Monday, August 07, 2006

Wal-Mart can't even defend itself any more.

Apparently, some Democrats are making Wal-Mart's anti-worker policies their focus in the mid-term elections. I don't really care one way or the other: Wal-Mart's just the most visible example of a systemic problem. However, it's worth noting how weak Wal-Mart's defense of itself really is (emphases added):
Last year, in response to criticisms of its healthcare provision for its 1.3m workers, Wal-Mart announced changes that included extending medical cover to the families of part-time workers. The retailer maintains that its pay and benefits are better than average in the low-pay retail sector. It has also set up its own support group, Working Families for Wal-Mart, headed by Andrew Young, the former mayor of Atlanta and first black US ambassador to the United Nations, under President Jimmy Carter. Mr Young put out a statement saying it was wrong for politicians concerned about healthcare issues to make Wal-Mart the focus of attacks, saying they were "leading America in the wrong direction".
So, basically, Wal-Mart is accused of paying workers far less than they deserve. And, in response, Wal-Mart says: (1) we're not as bad as some other people (tu quoque), and (2) going after the biggest employer in the US is the "wrong direction" to solve compensation problems.

I though they had better PR people than that.


undergroundman said...

It's an honest defense. You were expecting them to lie?

I have no problem with Wal-Mart's wages. You want better wages, get a marketable degree.

The truth is that our entire system of work is beginning to become outdated as automation continues. I don't know what the solution is exactly. The people who desperately need people to work for them don't have the money to pay for it. We must retain incentives while allowing everyone to cash in on the increasing productivity...who knows.

But, yeah, in the meantime - get a CS degree or study science if you don't want to work at Wal-Mart. Or join Peace Corps.

ADHR said...

I don't deny it's honest; it is, nonetheless, both fallacious and quite stupid. Tu quoque is one of the most prevalent fallacies when one is blamed for something. There's this weird idea that sharing the blame around somehow reduces one's own share of it, if not to nothing, at least to something inconsequential. But at best, sharing the blame just implicates more people, it doesn't make one's own conduct better.

Similarly, since Wal-Mart is a huge employer in the US, it makes pretty good sense to deal with worker compensation issues by going after Wal-Mart first. They're so big that this will (1) help a lot of people out and (2) likely have a trickle-down effect (in that, in order to stop their workers from running to Wal-Mart, other companies will have to improve their own compensation packages).

The system of work is deeply flawed. It's not just automation, but also consolidation of work (instead of six factories, ther'es one mega-factory), suburban culture (residences are no longer near work centres), global movement of capital but global paralysis of labour (a factory or call centre can move oversees, but the workers cannot legally follow), etc.

I've wondered for some time if it would make sense to provide a minimum level of "income" (in the form of goods, mostly -- housing, basic utilities, etc.), and use work as a method of gaining the means to purchase and consume luxury goods. The problem, of course, is the problem of all rationing systems: you have to cut off the black market, in order to stop people trading, say, food stamps for cigarette money.

I'm not sure that a CS degree or a science background is the best way to avoid Wal-Mart. I'd suggest learning a trade if you really want a guaranteed job.