Saturday, November 28, 2009

It's time to Boycott Wal-Mart

I grew up or, at least came of age, in an era of passionate boycotting. The earliest I recall was the Delano grape boycott and vivid images of the great Cesar Chavez marching on Sacramento. It was distant news and I don't recall ever passing up a nice grape no matter its provenance. But this was merely the signs of things yet to come as the 1960s writhed with all varieties of social protest, of which boycotting was but one.

Now, of course, the world did not begin with me on a sullen gray evening 61 years ago to this very day (shameless hint that, yes, this is the anniversary of my hatching and any good wishes and gifts you wanna send along, do so, except if they are from Wal-Mart the matter of which I am getting to, trust me). The word, boycott, derives from one Captain Charles Cunningham Boycott, a land agent for John Crichton, the 3rd Earl of Erne. Poor Charlie was caught somewhat in the middle. Having defended his employer against angry tenants, he became their target and was so successfully ostracized that he hightailed it out of the Emerald Isle and, unwittingly into the dictionary.

Since those etymologically fateful days of the 1880s, boycotts have become legion. Some we can look back on admiringly, as for example, the courageous bus boycotts in old Dixie in the early 60s, the miscellaneous determined anti-apartheid boycotts - I can still remember snubbing Paarl Roodeberg one night during a period when I snubbed very little of the alcoholic beverage family. And there were infamous boycotts as well, most notoriously, the Nazi ones against the Jews.

Overall, however one hears less about boycotting these days but it is long overdue now to direct one at the great Satan of Bentonville, Arkansas, Sam Walton whose Wal-Marts have become one the primary causes of the de-industrialization of most of the western world. In the process, Wal-Mart has led the way in enabling an even greater nemesis, the Peoples Republic of China to use economic judo on America and its allies, turning the force of our insatiable appetites for cheap crap into our undoing. I am tellling you nothing you don't already know, to say that there are very few goods we buy today which have not been manufactured in China. But the role that Western greed and cupidity has played in not allowing but forcing this to happen is too often forgotten as we race into one of the always proliferating Peoples' Republic factory outlet stores, AKA so-called "dollar stores" or to the very nucleus of the problem, Wal-Mart.

Along the way to reeking macro-economic havoc, Wal-Mart has not neglected the micro-level, making sure that it decimates older down-towns and at the same time brutally fights off any attempts by its workers to unionize. the latest development in this and indeed the impetus for this grousingly call for a boycott is the adjudicated finale exonerating the Wal-Mart bullies for their blatant tactics of intimidation. The setting is Jonquiere a small city on the Saguenay in Quebec. In 2004 the Jonquiere Wal-Mart was unionized by United Food and Commercial Works (UFCW). Within a few months, Wal-Mart Canada made a press release to the effect that the Jonquiere store was not "meetings its business plan." Indeed! The very presence of a union that can offer some modest counterbalance to Wal-Mart's despotic intolerance of the slightest uppitiness of employees, is certainly not part of old Sam or his descendant's "plan." To the contrary in its own stores and in the massive infrastructure of Chinese suppliers, worker democracy is verboten.

So it came as no surprise that a mere six months after unionization, Wal-Mart pulled the plug at Jonquiere. Uncharacteristically for the corporation -- which has used cut and run punitive tactics before when the spectre of unionization loomed, the locals fought back. Two former clerks Gaeten Plourde and Johanne Desbiens led an ultimately quixotic legal tilt at the giant claiming that not only had the closure violated Quebec's labour laws but, that since joining a union was a basic right, Wal-Mart had violated the charter.

In a split decision on Friday, the majority of our highest court chose to affirm 21st century serfdom. Largely disregarding the charter rights issue, the majority of 6 over 3, came to the brilliant conclusion that since Wal-Mart had, for whatever reasons it saw fit, closed the plant, naturally it permanently laid off its workforce in Jonquiere. That the closure was a direct attack on a sanctioned right and, indeed a very much planned threat to any employees in Canada and beyond, was disregarded in this trivialization of the matter by our learned lead justices. There is some solace to be taken in the minority opinion, written by Madam Justice Rosalie Abella who, in an unusually candid statement, opined that the majority decision was a ""a marked and arbitrary departure from the philosophical underpinnings, objectives and general scope of the labour code."

Two things emerge with painful clarity here: Wal-Mart can and will continue to throw its behemoth weight around in all aspects of its business (a similar union busting closure hit Wal-Mart's tire and lube outlet at Gatineau, Quebec, just last year) and the highest court of the land cannot be counted upon to challenge these robber barons. It is just for such a case that the valiant precedent of the good but poor tenants of Erne in 19th century Ireland should be followed. The extraordinary social and also economic costs of supporting Wal-Mart with your consumer loonie are crystal-clear. Each time you check out so much as a chocolate bar at one of the many outposts of these thugs, you are shoring up their dismal vision of self-aggrandizement and tyranny over all.

Googling the phrase "Boycott Wal-Mart" already turns up about 300,000 hits (though I have to admit that such sums are only to be expected, since googling damn near anything turns up crazily high numbers) but I believe sifting through all the usual internet chaff to find legitimate and potentially effective movements against us all having to live in Sam's dreams, is important enough that in coming blogs, you'll be seeing a kind of "field guide' to the options. Meanwhile, as Christmas comes on: please, please think about this question before you get sucked into one of those smiley-faced emporia of social repression: just whose job or community are you helping to wreck today?!