If you’re one of the millions of Americans who will visit a Wal-Mart on the biggest shopping weekend of the year, don’t be surprised if you encounter protestors agitating for “workers’ rights.”
But you may be surprised how those protestors got there. They are not union organizers, per se, although many represent unions and other community organizing groups. They are associated with calls for wage increases and improved working conditions – even though 23,000 people just turned up for 600 positions at a Wal-Mart under construction in Washington, D.C. As Business Insider notes, it’s harder to get a job at this one Wal-Mart – only 2.6 percent of applicants are accepted – than it is to get into Harvard, where 6.1 percent get in.
The protestors are the Baptists in a Baptists-and-Bootleggers arrangement assembled by an outfit, Saint Consulting, where the goal, according to one company executive, “is always to kill Wal-Mart.”
And the reason the goal remains the same is because the bootlegger is not the labor movement but Wal-Mart’s competitors, who are spending millions of dollars to use these activists to throw sand into Wal-Mart’s corporate gears.
As The Wall Street Journal’s Ann Zimmerman reported, “Local activists and union groups have been the public face of much of the resistance. But in scores of cases, large supermarket chains including Supervalu Inc., Safeway, and Ahold NV have retained Saint Consulting to block Wal-Mart.”
And that means a playbook that includes:
1. Fomenting land-use discontent: Zimmerman says former Saint employees told her “much of the work consisted of training Safeway’s unionized workers to fight land-use battles, including how to speak at public hearings.”
2. Legerdemain: Saint’s community organizers assume fake names, used leased phones so they inflate official call counts claim they are fighting for small business.
3. “Living wage” bills: Recently Washington, D.C., Mayor Vincent Gray vetoed a measure that would have established a higher-wage mandate for the new Wal-Marts. But neighboring jurisdictions and others around the nation have raised or are considering raising minimum wages even as they struggle to lure businesses. “Gray’s quandary is playing out in many U.S. cities,” theWashington Post said.
4. ULPs: Unions harass corporations by alleging Unfair Labor Practices. Last Monday, the National Labor Relations Board agreed to hear some complaints against Wal-Mart, but found others meritless. Wal-Mart said, “We will pursue our options to defend the company because we believe our actions were legal and justified… [T]here has not been one decision in the last 5 years by the NLRB or by a court finding that Wal-Mart violated the National Labor Relations Act.”
5. “Fake” unions: In the past two years, union-ish organizations, “worker centers,” burst into prominence, seeking neither union recognition nor bargaining rights. One group, the Organization United for Respect at Wal-Mart (OUR Wal-Mart), affiliates with the Union of Food and Commercial Workers unions. OUR Wal-Mart criticized the company for local donations to needy workers during Thanksgiving, claiming more pay is the answer. (Wal-Mart provides employees working on Thanksgiving with turkey dinners, holiday pay and 25 percent discounts.) And Interfaith Worker Justice, an AFL-CIO-linked organization, has called for a “Black Friday Day of Action at Wal-Mart.” Last year, protests that were to have featured actual Wal-Mart workers were found to have few if any participants who actually worked for the company.
The fact is, for all the warts its foes try to expose, Wal-Mart is quite popular as a corporation. It brings fresh food to neighborhoods that have none. It brings affordable appliances and clothes and tools to working-class Americans. It provides jobs for hundreds of thousands of people with limited professional skills. And it brings billions of dollars in tax revenues to communities across the nation.
So, if you encounter a “regular worker” protesting at Wal-Mart this weekend, remember those protesters have not only Big Labor behind them but quite possibly Big Grocery as well. Anything for a buck, right?
EDITOR’S NOTE: This column was originally published in Human Events, November 28th, 2013