Wal-Mart, the largest private employer in
the world, is continuing its assimilation of retail markets across
America. The Arkansas-based megalith recently announced plans to
open 225 new stores, including 18 in Michigan. While Wal-Mart may
claim that it merely seeks to bring consumers low, low prices, it
glosses over the fact that its continued expansion depreciates life
for workers and communities nationwide.
Sam Walton’s creation has built its identity as a discount
chain in part by providing low wages and few, if any, benefits to
workers. Wal-Mart “associates,” as employees are
called, earn significantly less than those doing similar work at
traditional retail outlets. Wal-Mart associates are powerless to
demand higher wages; while many discount stores are unionized,
Wal-Mart is notorious for union-busting. Since 1995, the National
Labor Relations Board has investigated Wal-Mart for over 250
alleged violations of laws protecting workers’ right to form
a union. Only one group of Wal-Mart workers has ever successfully
unionized: Ten butchers in a store in Jacksonville, Fla. voted to
join a union, only to have their department promptly eliminated and
their store supplied with pre-cut meat instead. It is
well-documented that Wal-Mart further hurts workers at other
businesses by depressing overall wages and benefits in local labor
Wal-Mart also harms the communities it enters by damaging
traditional downtown shopping areas and promoting urban sprawl.
Simple economies of scale dictate that local mom-and-pop
enterprises cannot compete with a gigantic corporation whose annual
revenue exceeds the gross domestic product of most nations. These
local businesses are often the most colorful, interesting stores
and the ones that contribute most to community life. Indeed,
several communities have successfully fought the expansion of
Wal-Mart through zoning laws, petitions, and ballot proposals. In
some cases, Wal-Mart has resorted to purchasing television ads in
an attempt to buy voters over to their side. Marine City, Michigan,
may soon be the next locale to have blocked a Wal-Mart; residents
recently filed a lawsuit to overturn a zoning decision that would
allow Wal-Mart’s expansion into their town.
Wal-Mart’s business plan calls for warehouse-like
“supercenters” with over 100,000 feet of floor space.
Sufficient land for these stores is generally only available on the
outskirts of town, and other large retailers often develop in the
same area, knowing that consumers will be forced to travel to
Wal-Mart as local retailers go out of business. The need for roads
and freeways linking residential centers with outlying retail
plazas exacerbates the problems of urban sprawl. Huge tracts of
forest and farmland are thus devoured while traditional downtowns
starve for capital.
In the end, Wal-Mart contributes to the homogenization of
America, ravaging local stores and destroying the downtown
districts that are the essence of many towns and cities. Through
licensing deals, Wal-Mart carries only a few brands of each
product, meaning those companies who do not sell through Wal-Mart
are squeezed out of markets. While Wal-Mart superstores offer low
prices, they fail to provide the options a downtown district with
multiple small stores could.
Overall, while Wal-Mart is the pinnacle of capitalist success,
its brings little benefit to those around it. The burgeoning growth
of an already massive corporation simply threatens the quality of
life in areas which it enters.