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A View From the Bottom: Walmart

You’re sitting in a small, cramp room with several strangers.  You’re anxious, and you don’t know what to expect.  You’ve heard rumors; everyone has heard the rumors.  Eventually a lady walks in.  She pops a DVD in, and quickly gives an uneasy explanation: “Just to be clear, we’re not anti-union… We’re simply pro-individual!”

Welcome to Walmart.

It’s been three long years since I first laid my eyes onto that dreaded video.  At the time, I was still learning of the class struggle.   However, my experience and knowledge on unions was elementary at best. What I saw that day though, I’ll remember the rest of my life.

Walmart, the largest private employer in the world, has over 2 million workers at its disposal.  Almost every single worker (oh wait, I mean, “associate”) has laid eyes onto this anti-uni… errr, pro-individual video.  It says the typical rhetoric: unions will drive up prices, they will steal your paycheck, it’s bad business, they’ll donate money to candidates you don’t vote for!” (Funny sidenote: a black actor said that.  Well, over 90% of African-American voters vote Democrat, and over 90% of big union donations to political candidates are Democrat).  They keep emphasizing to you in the video “Trust us, we’re not against unions.  Even some of our own customers belong to a union!  We simply believe in the individual, rather than forcing a third-party to filter your ideas.”  They simply go on and on about how a union is a evil third-party that is simply there to kill business, along with your paycheck.

It’s funny, because last time I checked, unions started off as grassroots, organic workers movements.  The original idea behind a union is that we, the workers, are being exploited of our labor, and only we, the workers, can move forward together.  If we tried this Walmart approach, the whole “one-on-one, don’t worry we won’t fire you if you complain!”-idea, then we are stuck in the rut we are in now.  The workers have the same interests, the same paychecks, the same work load, the same workplace, everything.  So why should we all ask for our crumbs from the table separately?

I’ve seen some messed up stuff working at Walmart for three years.  I would call it “bureaucratic hyper-capitalism.”  Long, pretentious term aside (I’ll avoid it when I can), Walmart is the embodiment of what capitalism has transformed into the past three decades in the First World.  It’s rapidly anti-union, it understaffs the store, it under-schedules (denying many new recruits full-time status, thus no benefits), it underpays compared to most of its competitors, and unrealistic expectations, among many other problems.  This is the world of neoliberal economics: to employ as little people as possible!  Why run a stress-free front-end with 10 cashiers when you can have mentally-exhausted, stressed-out 3 workers running the front end.  The lines flow to the jewelery counter, to those familiar with Walmart layouts.  I’ve seen the worst of it, and this isn’t fair to the worker or the customer.  In the hot summer, by the time a worker is done ringing up a fair-share of groceries, and they’ve been waiting in line, their frozen food is already defrosting quickly, and will do so even worse when they go outside.  Walmart brags of customer service, but the last thing I witness in there is respect for the customer and my fellow workers.

But, you know what is truly sad?  That customer will keep coming back, despite leaving disappointed and frustrated every time.  Along with that customer, the underpaid, overworked employee will drag their feet back in everyday as well.  There is a stereotype of Walmart workers being lazy, but having worked at four (yes, literally four) Walmart locations, I can say without a doubt that is further from the truth.  Why does this worker, who has no say in the workplace, who receives small paychecks, who receives topsy-turvy scheduling, keep coming back?  Because in the world of neoliberalism, there aren’t many choices. Sure, we have many places to shop at, but their business “ethics” are all the same.  Go ahead and try working at Target, it is simply Walmart but painted in red.  Workers at Target and other stores face the same problems: anti-union, small paychecks, and no respect.

However, despite all my ranting, I have yet to hit my other key topic of Walmart’s fine personality: bureaucracy!  It’s a word people tend to stray from, but I figured I would take a shot at it.  At a company where efficiency and customer service is suppose to be on top of their list, they sure like to take their sweet-time when it comes to treating their employee right.  These may be petty examples, however, you must remember, Walmart will fight any battle at any cost.
When I started my first day at the most recent location I work at, there was a problem at the time-clock.  I eventually ended up missing a days pay on my check.  $80 to them may not seem like anything, but to me, it can make the difference in being evicted or not.  I politely told my new manager of the problem, and boom, I was hit with a “That’s not my problem, go tell so-and-so…”  Well, so-and-so didn’t work that day, so the next time I eventually saw her (three days later?) I mentioned it.  Of course, it wasn’t her problem either!  It was personnel’s!  I called the next day, and of course the game picked up again: a new maze I must find my way through.  This process kept up for weeks, where I would call, and the “correct” person wouldn’t be working, or would be at lunch, or they wrote down my name to keep note of it.  Funny how all these notes keep disappearing.  I kept up, because it’s the principal that these fuckers shouldn’t be allowed to get away with taking someones pay whenever they wish too.  I started waiting around in the personnel office everyday to get the message across, and eventually they said it would be on my next paycheck.  When I received that back-pay, I counted the days.  It took over 6 weeks to receive one mere day of pay.  When I first raised the issue, they said they would probably take me to the Cash-Office and pay me upfront.

Walmart raises serious concerns in confronting issues head-on: they treat their customers poorly, they treat their workers horribly, and when faced with an issue, it suddenly isn’t their problem.  I have a laundry-list of petty complaints (along with the major ones I have raised. and even a few I haven’t mentioned, such as illegal toxic dumping, sexism, racism, et cetera), but when I face issues like this (among others) quite frequently, you should get the idea that Walmart’s ruling class of lazy managers simply are useless and suck up all the wealth for themselves.  My main-manager makes around 12 times the amount I do, and all he does is say to me “well, you need to talk to someone else about that” and simply brush me along whenever he can, which is daily.  Maybe they think if they can pass me along for so long I will simply not raise the issue anymore, and I give up.  Sometimes that happens, I see workers become discouraged by having no control over their lives.  It’s bad enough they can’t pay their bills, but when they do need one day off from work, the request is often denied.  Workers have no control over their workplaces nor’ their lives.  However, this can be changed.  We can make the change.

With a union, we can combat these issues together. We all strive for the same interests and solutions.  We are weak alone, but we are strong together.  Nothing can be accomplished if we all decide not to work.  The truck cannot be unloaded, the shelves will remain empty, no money can be taken in for corporate profits.

It’s quite amazing the solidarity I see at Walmart sometimes.  We understand each others problems when we know we’ll be stuck at the cash register all night, and that will result in being yelled at in the morning for not having our originally planned work done (yes, Walmart understaffs by having people run up to the register everyday).  We understand low-pay and no respect.  We understand heavy lifting and unnecessary criticism.  We’re sick of it.  We run this store.  Someday it will belong to us.  Organize!

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Discussion

3 thoughts on “A View From the Bottom: Walmart

  1. Great post fellow worker!

    Posted by theunionthug | October 6, 2011, 4:45 pm
  2. wonderful commentary, straight talk.

    Posted by James Kenworthy | October 7, 2011, 4:26 am
  3. I don’t work at WalMart, and I don’t shop there, either. Frankly, whatever savings I *may* get from shopping there isn’t worth the frustration or the guilt of having sold out my values by supporting them with my dollars. But whenever I discuss the reasons for my boycott with my friends and acquaintances, I feel like I’m being judged as a wacko. Why do so few people believe the evil truth (and all the mounting evidence) in favor of the Wally-Washing? Regardless, I continue my boycott, I continue to express my concerns, and I yell out “Boo!” from my car every time I drive by a WalMart. If you were to organize and strike, I would be bringing you coffee and sandwiches at the picket line. I support you!!!

    Posted by Jann | October 7, 2011, 4:56 pm

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