Last week I read a three part series on Wal-Mart’s business practices. In a nutshell, they get their products as cheaply as possible to sell it to their customers as cheaply as possible. The argument being that cheaper goods allows the customer, in this case the American consumer to purchase more with their shrinking income.
Checking the financials as reported by the Los Angeles Times we would note that:
|”It posted $245 billion in sales in its most recent fiscal year — nearly twice as much as General Electric Co. and almost eight times as much as Microsoft Corp. It is the nation's largest seller of toys, furniture, jewelry, dog food and scores of other consumer products. It is the largest grocer in the United States.”|
Clearly Wal-Mart is not going broke. Now the question is how does Wal-Mart make these kinds of profits? The LA times continues:
| ”By squeezing suppliers to cut wholesale costs, the company has hastened the flight of U.S. manufacturing jobs overseas. By scouring the globe for the cheapest goods, it has driven factory jobs from one poor nation to another.
Wal-Mart's penny-pinching extends to its own 1.2 million U.S. employees, none of them unionized. By the company's own admission, a full-time worker might not be able to support a family on a Wal-Mart paycheck.” (my emphasis).
Now this is a far cry from the understanding that Henry Ford had that the worker must be paid enough to afford the goods that he produced. In other words a well-paid labor force is able to consume higher end goods ensuring the profits of various businesses in a given community. In the case of Wal-Mart we have a negative effect on prevailing wages.
|”Gray earned $14.68 an hour with a pension and family health insurance. Wal-Mart grocery workers typically make less than $9 an hour.”|
Now why did I say that chickens are coming home to roost? Well quite simply this is how America has worked for hundreds of years. The thing that escaped the LA Times is the history of “employment” vis- a-vis black folks. American companies have always liked cheap labor. They enslaved Africans and used them as cheap labor to sow and reap cotton and tobacco. Those of us with “skills” were hired out to others to perform work on the cheap for other people with a portion of our labor given to our “masters” and “mistresses.” All this while upper crust landed white folks could sit on their arses and sip tea and plot on how to get between the legs of the next black woman. Don’t hate me for sayin’ it check it out here
In order to maintain some semblance of racial organization and hierarchy poor white people were given marginally better treatment than enslaved Africans. Knowing that since they were white they could possibly gain entry to the upper crust. By and large this intense desire to maintain racial loyalty and white privilege allowed poor white Americans to allow landed, privileged white Americans to exploit other people for “everyone’s benefit.” Thus when after the Civil War and mass migrations of blacks to the new industrial centers whites who wanted these jobs called upon these same landed whites to give them jobs previously to low for white hands and protect these jobs for white hands. And in a stroke of what could be called “stupidity” but was really just WS at work, white union leaders also barred blacks from their Unions and in some cases had riots to have blacks removed from workplaces. The resulting ideology was simple. You can exploit the non-white for the benefit of the white. Of course in the greater, global scheme of WS, exploitation of the non-white for the benefit of the white was nothing new. It was going on in Africa, India and soon elsewhere.
Marcus Garvey, Like Martin Delany before him recognized that if black folks and other non-whites allowed themselves to continue to be used and disorganized, whites would attempt to control the world economic environment by monopolizing the raw materials and the places of purchase. They would use their economic and military power to dictate to weak nations “when and where they enter.” To this end Garvey upon establishing the UNIA (Universal Negro Improvement Association) also established the ill-fated Black Star Line and associated incorporated bodies. The stated purposes of these entities was to bring economic independence to black people everywhere by creating a global link of commerce and governance that would put Africans in a position whereby they could compete on an equal footing with any and all nations of the world and not be subject to the whims of white global conglomerates like a Wal-Mart.
History teaches us that the BSL eventual failed due to both mismanagement and well documented government conspiracy. Not to mention a good helping by the competing organization of the day, the NAACP. But not to get off subject. History also teaches us that once many countries gained independence, they were economically dependent on their former mother country. So what was previously slave labor became cheap labor for the businesses operating in said countries. Thus setting the stage for neo-colonialism as warned of by Nkrumah.
Remember that all the while these things were happening on a global scale, Americans were experiencing huge wage increases (depression aside) and workplace changes that would lead to health insurance, paid vacation, and an enforced 40 hour work week. Of course these things drove up the costs of goods and services, but it was understood that people had to make a living and that was how things were. But lost on many people, but should have never been lost on the black population, is that business is about the bottom line. America had no problem buying, beating, shipping and dehumanizing a group of people for profit. Profit is not king it is GOD. And this god accepts human sacrifices. I remember when TV’s stopped being made in the US because it was cheaper to produce in other countries. Throughout the late 70’s into the 90’s goods became ridiculously cheap and few people noticed that it was because these goods were not being made in the US. I remember when the US auto industry threw a fit over Japanese imports and got money from the Federal Government to bail them out. The rationale being that American high wage jobs were at risk and therefore so were the economy. Remember that for later.
Eventually businesses realized that the cost of semi-skilled labor, that is, non-clerical, non-managerial, was eating into their profits. It was cheaper to contract out to some third world country where labor laws were lax or non-existent. Where environmental laws were equally lax or non-existent and most importantly the government is weak enough and desperate enough to accept jobs paying $1.50 a day. So eventually these jobs went away, via NAFTA or other means. Now where in American history have people been paid next to nothing? Oh, that’s right, the Negro!!! Now back to Wal-Mart. The company
makes its money by brow beating its suppliers into providing them goods at ever lower prices. How are many of these suppliers doing it? For the ones that were based in America they do it by shutting up shop and opening up somewhere where “cullud folks” happen to live. So Wal-Mart basically can run into a country and turn it into a modern day manufacturing plantation with the government of the country playing overseer. For example:
|Wal-Mart is the most powerful corporate citizen in Bangladesh, even though it doesn't operate a single store in the country.
When the company complained to Bangladesh's Export Promotion Bureau this spring about delays in moving cargo, the response was swift.
Officials in the southern port of Chittagong are speeding up efforts to reduce paperwork and modernize facilities. Over the objections of labor leaders, port officials also are building a five-berth container terminal that will be privately managed. Already, giant cranes have helped shorten a ship's turnaround time from six days to fewer than four.
It's no wonder Wal-Mart wields such clout in this country, where nearly half the population lives in poverty. The company bought 14% of the $1.9 billion in apparel that Bangladesh shipped to the U.S. last year.
Now how are the chickens coming home to roost? With the market crash, many companies were forced to be more efficient with their work forces. As a result, in the high tech industry many programming jobs have been shipped to countries were programming talent comes cheap. I even have seen an example in the movie industry where graphic jobs such as compositing are being shipped to countries like Belgium. Accompanying this is the wholesale assault on the Middle Class. America is rapidly forming a huge gulf between the rich and poor. The middle class is being squeezed in such a way that if the trends continue, they will be the upper crust of the poor. Perhaps this is what Wal-Mart is banking on. Only 25% of Americans between the ages of 20-27 have a college degree. This means that most people in America do not have a degree. If they don’t have a degree then their choices for high income are self-employment, Nursing or computer support jobs. If these are not options then these persons compete with high schoolers for “menial” service jobs. And even among the previously mentioned jobs there are only so many managers needed so chances for “advancement” are slim indeed.
So indeed Wal-Mart has brought international exploitation home to America. And to be fair they are not the only ones. White America, by allowing their government and businesses to exploit other people are about to reap that practice as the wages for the majority of middle and low income Americans are depressed in order to “compete” with the rest of the world. But the countries that are being exploited have a hand in this as well. By allowing a corporation to basically dictate the economy of a country is just bad. It locks the country into low –wage work that barely lifts the workers out of poverty, if it even does that much. And worse, these global predators will move onto the next manufacturing ‘ho’ as soon as her price drops. When that happens, what happens to the plants and shipyards? The best bet for these countries is to unify themselves and form a uniform economic policy for dealing with outside corporations. Under no circumstances should a country allow its workers to be exploited in such a manner. I doubt the managerial class at Wal-Mart would accept $1.50 a day. But that’s not their problem is it? But these managers have nice houses, health insurance, drive nice cars and can work from “can see to can see.” While the people in Mexico and Honduras work from “can’t see to can’t see” sleep in slave quart—oops, I meant dormitories.