Wal-Mart Rampant

Chicago surrenders

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Originally published in New Ground 130.3, email edition 07.01.2010.

by Bob Roman

It’s not all that unusual for progressives (a nice generic term for whatever combination of liberals, labor, and leftists is at hand) to have their asses kicked while proclaiming victory, the boot to the fundament apparently being an uplifting experience. But when, last week, the Chicago labor movement pulled the plug on opposition to a second Wal-Mart to be built in the Pullman neighborhood, their proclamations of an historic agreement between Labor and Wal-Mart sounded a bit thin, as if there were far too much helium in the atmosphere, even before Wal-Mart bluntly denied that any such agreement existed. The document the Chicago Federation of Labor news conference referred to, Wal-Mart said, was an agreement with the Pullman community though in truth no one from the community agreed to it — or possibly Wal-Mart traded $24 in beads and trinkets with the first person they met on the street. In effect, the document is more like Wal-Mart’s pledge to the community. Even then, at the very end, Wal-Mart reserved the right to do whatever it pleased, so long as it didn’t break the law: truly an aspiration on the part of Wal-Mart. Furthermore, Wal-Mart’s “community benefits memo” is specifically for the Pullman store. There is nothing in it that indicates it would apply to any of the other stores it is planning for Chicago.

What does Wal-Mart pledge?

  • A starting wage of a couple of dozen pennies more than Illinois’ legal minimum wage, to be followed, in about a year of employment, with a raise to about $9.15 an hour. Wal-Mart claims their employees in their current west-side store average $11.77 an hour.
  • Union construction jobs, up to 2000 of them. This is possibly a bit more substantive, but it’s also hard to imagine that it doesn’t represent anything Wal-Mart wasn’t planning to do otherwise, though they are perfectly capable of importing contractors from the ends of the Earth just to make a point. Still, be careful what you wish for. Labor’s civil wars have begun spreading to the building trades, with the Carpenters Union in particular organizing other crafts. Wal-Mart, for example, is constructing a store in way downstate Godfrey, Illinois, using Carpenter Union electricians, rather than workers represented by the IBEW. It’s a Chicago contractor, too, apparently.
  • Minority hiring and business opportunities. Lots of it. This is probably the most promising part of the Wal-Mart’s pledge, but once again not likely much beyond what they would have done anyway absent the uproar.
  • $20 million in charity contributions toward community economic development. It’s probably not a good thing to disrespect decency no matter how humble, but the lefty cynic in me regards this as a bribe to the local ruling class so Wal-Mart will be accepted into the local community. The gross amount might possibly be larger than usual, but this is not untypical behavior for Wal-Mart.
  • Wal-Mart’s community benefits memo makes the local alderman the go-to guy for several of it’s pledges, most particularly the pledges listed on the first page so they are hard to miss. If you’ve ever wondered why many politicians are so cheaply bribed, the explanation is simple: the money is secondary to the transaction itself. The transaction demonstrates that the briber acknowledges the bribee to be among the central figures in getting the project done. In politics, this is very important. This first page of the memo was probably worth dozens of thousand dollar campaign contributions, especially as other Aldermen envision themselves in the same position.

Finally, any number of folks have pledged to make sure Wal-Mart lives up to its pledges, Alderman Howard Brookins for one. But it’s hard to see this as particularly serious. And if this were not enough, US Bank is apparently financing the Pullman store using money from the federal anti-foreclosure Neighborhood Stabilization Program.

Old Gene Debs never had much luck with Pullman, either. “Still a company town,” he sighs from the grave.

In the mean time, Wal-Mart continues on the offensive. Contrary to Mayor Daley’s babblings, opposition to Wal-Mart is not just a Chicago thing but has been widespread even in the suburbs. Now Wal-Mart is suing one of its competitors, Supervalue, saying that opposition to proposed Supercenters in Mundelein and New Lenox was a put-up job of astro-turfing. And remember Wal-Mart’s efforts to become a bank? It just succeeded in Canada, and the U.S. may not be far behind.

Can you liberals out there still pronounce the word “anti-trust?”