Thursday, June 09, 2005

Concerned about the pummeling its reputation has taken lately, Wal-Mart has designated half of its ads for PR that shows happy employees talking about their wonderful careers there. Wal-Mart execs have been making soothing "we want to do the right thing" noises, but, in fact, "Wal-Mart is as concerned about doing the right thing as Tobacco companies are concerned about the health of Americans," says Paul Blank, director of the Wake-Up Wal-Mart Campaign.
Only by exposing its execs' smug lies can we turn its customers in another direction and put the hurt on its sales figures. Unless we can affect their bottom line, none of their behavior will change, but it won't be easy. Even union laborers are addicted to saving pennies on Charmin and Tide at the smiley face place. Thirty second sound bytes are inadequate to convince them that the motto of Wal-Mart ought to be "Always High Costs. Always."
The first step each of us should take is the obvious one: Don't shop there. There's an upside to swearing off Wal-Mart. Not only will you be helping local businesses and almost surely getting better service, you'll be spared the depressing ambiance and cart traffic snarls in the narrow aisles. Boycotting W-M is a relief, even sometimes a joy. A friend of mine cut up her Sam's card and presented the pieces of it to the clerk at the service counter at Costco. They both got a laugh out of it. (See the Jan. 12, 2005 blog for info on Costco.)
As far as a broader strategy, the Wake-up Wal-Mart Campaign is pursuing a variety of strategems. First, some legal jockeying could lay the groundwork for a more effective campaign. For example, it would be useful to pass laws in as many states as possible requiring that the state report how many workers of a given company are on any government assistance program. Such reporting would enable citizens to quickly assess how much taxpayers are subsidizing Wal-Mart.
Pop quiz: Where is the most effective place to find Wal-Mart customers so as to inform them of Wal-Mart's real costs? Umm, at Wal-Mart? Of course. But the corporation deems its parking lots to be private property and keeps activists off its land. The Wake-up Wal-Mart Campaign plans to research which parking lots were partly paid for with public money (say, for the lighting, for example). If taxes paid for the lights or any part of building the lot, then it's public space, and activists could make a case for being allowed to leaflet there.
Another possible legal tactic, to be used against Supercenters, is getting them declared "out of classification". There's a limit on how many groceries a department store can carry.
In short, those going after the megaretailer realize that the task will require not only persistence but also craftiness.
Until now, St. Louisans have been spared the worst ravages of the Biggest Box because the corporation considered St. Louis too unionized and unfriendly. That's changed, and Wal-Mart considers St. Louis friendly enough now so that it plans to open two Supercenters in St. Charles. As a result, it's likely that the Wake-Up Wal-Mart Campaign will target St. Louis. UFCW officials hope to meet with Charlie Dooley to discuss limiting Wal-Mart's inroads. The campaign also plans to doorknock throughout St. Charles County to inform residents about the true costs of the pending Supercenters. It will be looking for grassroots activists to help, so if you've been missing knocking on doors since last October, pine no more.
If you're willing to help out with this campaign, it's easy to sign up.
Despite the fact that recent attacks have made Wal-Mart skittish enough to begin fighting back, I'm sure Goliath feels cocky. It's our job to take aim with the pebbles from thousands of slingshots.


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