Wal-Mart Offensive

Chicago was about to be over-run…


Originally published in New Ground 130.2, email edition 06.16.2010.

by Bob Roman

It sure is nice when you have money to throw at a problem. This is what Wal-Mart is doing to crack the Chicago market. You may have noticed some CTA L cars newly wrapped in advertising urging citizens to ask their alderman to allow Wal-Mart into the Chicago, referring them to Chicago’s “311” non-emergency call center (to be connected with the appropriate alderman, apparently) or to a web site Wal-Mart has set up. They’ve also been running radio ads (notably on WBBM-AM) and slipping “public service” items into the news stream.

Opponents of Wal-Mart are not, strictly speaking, opponents of Wal-Mart. Mostly they just want Wal-Mart to pay a living wage, at least, if they are to do business here in the city. The reasons are pretty obvious. Poverty wage jobs will force other, competing businesses to cut wages or benefits for their own employees, encouraging a “race to the bottom” for workers. Poverty wage employees, whether at Wal-Mart or elsewhere, won’t have money to support commerce, to support government services, to properly support and educate their children.

And while “big-box” stores like Wal-Mart do bring the consumers some advantages, they also have the disadvantage of promoting a car-centered life style that is expensive for the less well-off and is expensive for the government.

There’s quite a bit of research on the subject of Wal-Mart. Two examples specific to Chicago are the Center for Community and Labor Research’s 2004 study and a more recent (2010) study by Loyola University’s Center for Urban Research and Learning.

Advocates of good jobs can’t pay for advertising wraps of CTA cars. But they do have a few useful web sites. Check out the Good Jobs Chicago Coalition and Good Jobs First – Illinois as two examples. Wal-Mart’s efforts at expansion are still corralled in a City Council committee, but it’s not a stable (begging your pardon) situation in the long run. You might want to call that 311 number as well.