Wal-Mart Watch: SEIU’s Fight for the Future Blog, maintained by President Andy Stern, has engaged an admirable and urgent project: an extended discussion across the web and beyond on the challenge Wal-Mart and Wal-Martization pose to good jobs, and the strategies and coalitions neccesary to fight them. Over spring break, I had the pleasure of a very-late-night multi-hour discussion about what such a strategy would look like with some amazing organizers from different parts of the country. I’m hoping to contribute something soon; should you, fair reader, wish to do so, e-mail your thoughts, or a link to them, to email@example.com. Meanwhile, some highlights from Andy’s posts this week:
Some people think we should follow the “Wal-Mart only” strategy — Wal-Mart is making the global business rules, and so changing their business practices changes everything. But others say we have to tackle more than just Wal-Mart. Why?
1) Wal-Mart is the trendsetter, affecting how other corporations do business. Tomorrow, we’re going to hear from a worker about how Intel’s been following in Wal-Mart’s footsteps. So we need to start telling and spotlighting the wrong behavior of more companies and send a message we won’t take Wal-Mart as an excuse anymore.
2) The “Wal-Mart plus” strategy proposal says that Wal-Mart is the toughest nut to crack. Campaigns need victories along the way — victories that don’t just stop a company but actually change its and others’ behavior. If we only take on Wal-Mart, it’s hard to see how we’ll sustain our enthusiasm to keep going.
The “Wal-Mart only” strategy says that the world’s largest corporation is making the global business rules, and changing their business practices changes everything.
Wal-Mart, Target, and other corporations now use subcontractors for janitorial services. And just like global outsourcing, they squeeze these subcontractors to bid lower and lower to get the subcontracted work. To stay competitive, honest subcontractors are often forced to drop their wages and benefits to poverty levels. Dishonest contractors don?t let minimum wage or overtime law stand in the way. When these subcontractors get caught, Wal-Mart and other rogue corporations pass the buck…
Our first strategy in this campaign is challenging corporations to adopt the Justice at Work Principles for responsible subcontracting. By signing the principles, companies agree that they and their subcontractors will provide decent wages, health and retirement coverage, and working conditions. They also pledge to respect workers? right to form unions to win a voice on the job. To ensure these commitments are carried out, companies will give independent organizations the authority to interview workers and audit payroll records.
With a little self-organizing, if we figure it out right, we could help folks crank up the activism as mutual fund shareholders, big time. We can challenge Wall Street right at the heart of their business ? supposedly working in the interest of shareholders. We can force the giant banks and financial service companies that run mutual funds to take a long-term view of the companies they invest in, to reward companies that treat workers well, and to punish those, like Wal-Mart, that cut wages and benefits to the bone.
…why don’t more workers fight back in court? Partly because workers fear that filing a lawsuit could get them fired. But the other problem — the one we can help solve right now — is that it takes a lot of work to find a lawyer who will take these kinds of cases.
So, SEIU wants to help. Working with law firms and legal centers, we’ll develop a state-by-state strategy for helping workers get in touch with lawyers when their rights have been violated. What do you think about a nationwide Wal-Mart Justice at Work legal network of volunteer and paid lawyers…
Lawsuits aren’t a long-term solution. Ultimately, workers need a direct voice on the job through a union so they can defend themselves every day. But as a first step on that road, we can help workers use the legal system to ensure that corporations treat them with at least the minimal respect they are due under the law.