Monday, October 03, 2005

Wal-Mart Thoughts

This story appeared in the Madison, WI, Capital Times. Something for Sarasota to think about as the Newtown Wal-Mart proposal is considered.

Win for Wal-Mart, loss for Jefferson
By John Nichols September 29, 2005

The city of Jefferson provides a textbook example of what happens when a city loses control of its own affairs.

In 2001, the local meat processing plant - a 120-year-old concern with solid roots in the community - was purchased by the Tyson conglomerate. The Arkansas corporation quickly provoked a long and nasty labor dispute as part of a move to cut local pay and benefits. The long and bitter strike created serious tensions in what had once been a tight-knit and prosperous community.

Now, following a move by Wal-Mart - another Arkansas-based corporation - to elbow its way into the local retail market, the Jefferson County community of 7,338 finds itself even more deeply divided.

On Tuesday, a Jefferson alderman who stood up for local retailers and employees was narrowly recalled from his position by a candidate who was friendly to Wal-Mart.

The vote was so close that neither side can claim a mandate. Ald. David Olsen, the subject of the recall, won 815 votes, or 48 percent of the vote, while his challenger, Chris Havill, received 880 votes, or 52 percent of the total.

Still, the removal of Olsen, a local funeral director with deep roots in the community, is a boost for Wal-Mart and out-of-state retailers that have decided to radically reshape commerce in Wisconsin communities.

Indeed, as Olsen said after the vote, "The real winner tonight was Wal-Mart, which shows the power of a big corporation to reach in and have a great impact on a city."

Olsen is right about that, just as he and his supporters are right to fear the impact.

Wal-Mart, like Tyson, makes its money by cutting wages and benefits for workers, forcing out locally owned competitors, and treating communities as "sources of revenue" rather than hometowns.

David Olsen had the courage to stand up to Wal-Mart, which wanted to build a so-called "supercenter" in Jefferson. That made him a marked man politically, and the powerful interests he opposes succeeded in taking him out on Tuesday.

Unfortunately, history will prove Olsen to have been correct.

Just as Wal-Mart was the winner on Tuesday, so Jefferson will be the loser in the long run.


Stan Zimmerman said...

Like many in Sarasota, I am conflicted about the proposal to place a Walmart in Newtown. Is a go-nowhere job better than no job at at? Is a multinational conglomerate superior to local endeavor?

Jobs are key. Jobs provide income, not only to the worker but also to the entrepeneur risking cash capital. With Walmart, no local capital is at risk, and jobs are certain. Wihtout Walmart, local capital is required and jobs are uncertain. Here we must look to folks with neighhorhood capital to understand and evaluate the difference in this proposal.

Our "vibrant and exiciting" downtown is at risk if Walmart materializes nearby, because all that is cheap, tacky and attractive plays to our lowest denominator.

For all Walmart customers, I offer this suggestion. Check the labels. For if you do, you'll find Walmart is mis-named. It's really the Greater Chinese Trading Company, an outlet for Chinese goods produced in sweat-shops or maybe even by slave labor. So American consumers can buy cheap.

I visited a Walmart once. Despite the flags and protestations of patriotism, it was difficult to find products with an American label. In truth, Walmart is an extension of China. Cheap is as cheap does. I don't want to buy the products of slave labor, sweat shops or child labor. I would much rather pay more to support the working people - including disability, health care, child care, retirement and a living wage - for my fellow Americans.

To establish such a trading outpost in my city is an anathema. I'm sure they'll promise "the world," and I'm sure they'll deliver "the cheapest prices." Because of all those deals they've made with China. Of all their ambitions to drive our local merchants into bankrupcy because they sell American-made goods.

No. Better to starve than support slavery elsewhere. No matter how hard it may be to turn down this "advantageous offer," a Greater Chinese Trading Outpost in Sarasota should be rejected forthwith.

For all those hoping and praying for jobs at the Greater Chinese Trading Outpost, are you willing to exchange a minimal job for the slavery of others?

s/Stan Zimmerman

Sarasota Secret Society Blogger said...

SOS1, you risk becoming part of the community that perpetuates unsubstantiated charges against Wal-Mart. Where are the facts to back up John Nichols' claim that "Wal-Mart...makes its money by cutting wages and benefits for workers...?

This charge is made over and over again, and I have yet to see any evidence to support it.

On the contrary, I have personal experience that, when Wal-Mart came into a small town where I lived, they offered health insurance and pension plans that the small "mom and pops" could not afford. Further, their hourly wages were higher than "mom and pops", and some of the top executives (six-figure guys and gals) started out as hourly store employees.

As big as they may be, they are still a small part of the local employer base. We are only running about 3% unemployment, and if they want good employees, they are going to have to pay competitive wages and benefits.

As for Stan Zimmerman, why are you picking on Wal-Mart when you complain about buying from China. Please tell me where you get any thing from ANY retailer that is made in the U.S. I agree with your point, but don't lay the problem at Wal-Mart's steps. It's a U.S. trade issue.

My biggest problem with Wal-Mart is that they put a big ugly "box" in the middle of a neighborhood. That is a local issue. We have to have City and County Officials that are willing to implement strict design and signage codes, and stick with them.

John Foust said...

I'm in Jefferson. The story here is a bit more complex than the simple wire story indicates. Olsen had a long history of opposing public participation in the economic development process. He gave other indications that he'd support a Wal-Mart with changes in siting or traffic flow. Only as the recall progressed did he start making wacky claims that Wal-Mart Corp. was behind the recall. The recall petition team certainly wanted a Wal-Mart, but from their lack of PR and simple literature it was clear that they didn't have any professional support.

I encourage you to search Technorati for "olsen jefferson recall" or visit my site for a timeline of events in Jefferson, WI.