The Wal-Mart puzzle

Wal-Mart poses an conflict for those with a social conscience. This union-busting monolith has grown into the largest retailer in the world, and its list of violations is as long as it is revolting. According to wakeupwalmart.com, Wal-Mart employs 1.4 million Americans, and yet its average employee earns below the poverty line.

Contrary to the beliefs held by some that a working person living in poverty can pull themselves up by the bootstraps, the world isn’t so rosy-colored. And if it was, no one would be there to clean your campus.

Additionally, Wal-Mart’s healthcare offerings are amusing at best. Sadly enough, right around 52 percent of Wal-Mart’s employees are not covered by the company, according to the same website. In just one of the many ways that Wal-Mart devours tax dollars, it suggests to its employees to just get Medicare. Ten billion in profits, but the state program is a “better value.”

Of course, let’s not forget Wal-Mart’s record in human rights. In buying much of its goods from China, Wal-Mart may be responsible for around 10 percent of our trade deficit with China, wakeupwalmart.com says, and children are still being paid pennies an hour to make for Wal-Mart the crap we can’t live without. And, the manufacturing jobs of these Chinese kids used to belong to Americans.

I would be remiss not to mention how many local industries are ruined when Wal-Mart comes to town. Mom ‘n’ Pop’s just couldn’t compete with Wal-Mart’s Always Low Prices. At least Maw can always stock Wal-Mart’s shelves for $7 an hour.

If that wasn’t enough, according to the website, Wal-Mart was sued by the United States last October for violating the Clean Water Act in nine states. To top it all off, Wal-Mart made a $5,000 contribution to Tom DeLay two days after he was indicted for criminal conspiracy. Can you say permanent boycott?

Not so fast. What is the real enemy here? Poverty. The victim is the lower-middle class family, living paycheck to paycheck. This idea might be foreign to some UM students, but for some, the idea of a budget is “pay all the bills until the money runs out.” These families need Wal-Mart’s low prices in order to have some semblance of the American dream. No matter how socially conscious the family of six living in a $16,000 house is, it doesn’t have many options when the kids are growing out of clothes every six months.

Besides all that, is there anything better than a Super Wal-Mart? Groceries are cheaper and fresher there than anywhere else (especially Publix!), and where else can you find Kelly Clarkson’s new CD for $8?

Wally World could stand to make some fundamental changes to make the world a better place, but is it really so fair to demonize a company that caters exclusively to the same poor folk we liberals are trying to help out? On the other hand, is it really fair to overlook how Wal-Mart keeps those same poor folk poor? Therein lies the conundrum.

Chris Fisher is a junior majoring in motion pictures and political science. He can be contacted at c.fisher2@umiami.edu.

January 27, 2005


The Miami Hurricane

Student newspaper at the University of Miami

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The Miami Hurricane is the student newspaper of the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. The newspaper is edited and produced by undergraduate students at UM and is published weekly on Thursdays during the regular academic year.