Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Sam's Legacy

Yes, I spent a summer working at Wal-Mart; easy but sucky work. Several friends worked there as well, one of whom getting severely sexually harassed and then discriminated against in the process.

Wal-Mart was never a truly good thing -- even in Arkansas, its home, many worried over its economic effects, as with the mom & pop stores it destroyed, the Ben Franklins and General Stores on town squares that Wal-Mart reduced to emptiness or flea markets. But most people shrugged, considering the prospect hopeless that they could do anything about it.

In a way, I think Sam Walton knew that by making his company adopt some populist policies (which I have no doubt he personally believed in), he could counter any amount of negative publicity. So populist thrift was publicised by pointing to the fact that Wal-Mart upper management frugally roomed together during business trips; thrift was also demonstrated by Sam's use of an old truck to get around, and it was well-known that he frowned on white-collar conspicuous consumption among his managers; populist protectionism was shown by Walton's "Made In The USA" slogan/policy.

But now all that's gone. Playboy, I think it was, ran an article last year showing how ostentatiously the management lives in Springdale, now that Sam's gone. Of course the "Made in the USA" policy has been scrapped in favour of the cheap products flowing into Wal-Mart stores from sweatshops of the slave-labour of China. Wal-Mart now has little left of its populist shield as protection from what it has always practiced: ill-treatment of its workers.

The Hegemo blogged an entry on how Wal-Mart's last populist defense (low prices for the consumer) is now falling to scrutiny. Low prices aren't really that low when tax payers have to cover the costs of Wal-Mart's shitty "benefits" package given their employees.