February 11, 2005
"Public Enemy Number 1" Comes to New York
Oh ho! It looks like the working man's friend, Wal-Mart, is looking into opening its first New York City location in 2008. And New Yorkers couldn't be more enthusiastic:
Wal-Mart builds communities!
Says Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner, "Wal-Mart has blazed a path of economic and social destruction in towns throughout the U.S."
Wal-Mart creates jobs!
Brian McLaughlin, president of the New York City Central Labor Council, adds that "Wal-Mart has come to represent the lowest common denominator in the treatment of working people."
Wal-Mart brings people together!
Richard Lipsky, spokesman for the Neighborhood Retail Alliance, says, "There will never be a more diverse and comprehensive coalition than this effort against Wal-Mart...It will include small-business people, labor people, environmental groups, women's groups, immigrant groups and community groups."
Interestingly, this news comes just after Wal-Mart announced it will close a Canadian store close to unionizing, citing "unreasonable demands" from labor organizers that would make the store unprofitable to operate. And I'm sure it would. As this interesting* New Yorker piece points out, Wal-Mart is stuck: its own business model makes it impossible to pay fair wages, because the low pricing allows such a small profit margin (according to the article, an average of 4 cents on every dollar of sales).
But here's another curious thing. Why are the same New Yorkers who courted Target so vehemently opposing Wal-Mart? After all, they're both big-box stores that sell products at discount prices, affecting local retailers in their communities. Target might have a hipper ad campaign and cooler opening parties, but are the differences betwen the two real or perceived? Sure, Target promotes corporate giving, but Wal-Mart also operates community programs, just as Target also employs a staff of largely part-time, non-union workers. Can we really be won over so easily by cheap designer clothing? Will labor and community leaders** look the other way, as long as it means access to cute kitchen accessories?
* Interesting, but ultimately incorrect: Surowiecki concludes that as big-box stores and manufacturers like Proctor & Gamble/Gillette continue to grow, economic power lies with the consumer - which is a theory I can't subscribe to.
**Disclaimer: I'm as guilty as anyone on this, I love me some Target.
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