The War on Wal-Mart continues apace this week in New York City. There, the cost of living is high — as is the demand for Wal-Mart’s services. But the labor movement’s tactics, as always, are lower than low.
Their latest tactic: a bill that will require grocery stores in the five boroughs with 35 or more employees to provide their workers with “prevailing” health-care benefits.
What this means, in practice, is erecting yet another wall to keep Wal-Mart out. Back in February, big labor prevailed upon Gotham’s political class to keep the country’s largest private-sector (and non-union) employer from opening a store in Rego Park, Queens. Now, this health-care bill is meant as a permanent “not welcome” sign to a chain that would never even consider changing its benefit structure to satisfy a bunch of wannabe Communists in the Big Apple.
What Wal-Mart’s opponents can’t win through organizing or in the marketplace, it seems, they now seek to achieve through the raw exercise of political power. One can hardly blame them for sticking with what works.
A little context: One should never forget that the fight over Wal-Mart is all about groceries.
As you may have heard, organized labor is dying in America — at least in the private sector. Only 8 percent of private-sector workers are unionized, compared to 37 percent in the public sector (think teachers unions, bus drivers, health-care workers, etc.). One of the last bastions of private-sector unionization is the grocery industry.
But non-union Wal-Mart is threatening all that with its “supercenters,” which combine the chain’s typical fare with a full-on supermarket. It has some 1,300 supercenters around the country, up from 34 just 10 years ago. When Wal-Mart moves into a local grocery market, it can drive down prices by 15 percent — kicking the canned peas out of outfits carrying bloated union payrolls. It’s grown to control one-fifth of the national grocery market.
Thus, behind most anti-Wal-Mart activism these days you find the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. The UFCW is behind the recently launched Wake-Up Wal-Mart campaign, which ostensibly seeks not to unionize Wal-Mart, but to make Wal-Mart pay the same wages and benefits as unionized stores. Though the unions have failed for years to unionize Wal-Mart’s workers (not surprising, given how few workers in the U.S. want anything to do with a union), this tactic is supposed to — at the very least — save unionized grocery stores from being squashed by Wal-Mart.
Of course, in saving unionized grocery stores from Wal-Mart, the unions are also ensuring that working-class Americans — the people who shop at the store when local governments let them — pay higher prices on everything from groceries to underwear to DVDs.
Union officials in New York, for their part, even admit that their members would love to be able to shop at Wal-Mart.
“Teachers and all kinds of working people shop Wal-Mart,” Brian McLaughlin, president of the New York City Central Labor Council, acknowledged as he kicked off an anti-Wal-Mart rally recently in Greenwich Village.
And why do they do this? “They don’t understand the costs,” he said.
And, so, there you have it. The unions think their members — not to mention the rest of the public — are simply too stupid not to shop at Wal-Mart. The debate over Wal-Mart has been going on for more than a decade, but they’re too damn selfish, and too damn interested in their cheap underwear, to spend a few extra nickels to support their unionized brothers and sisters.
Of course, the truth is that Americans simply no longer give a flying fig about unions. They don’t want to join them. They don’t want to show solidarity with them. And they don’t want to give their money to them when they’re just trying to put dinner on the table.
The only people the unions can win over, with their money and their ability to move votes, is small-potatoes local politicians who can’t win without their support. Those are the kinds of politicians who run New York’s City Council. And those are the kinds of politicians you’ll find in local government all over the United States — especially in big cities.
The only solution is for voters to realize that these politicians claiming to look out for the working man are, as usual, just robbing consumers to pay their friends.
Ryan Sager is a member of the editorial board of The New York Post. He also edits the blog Miscellaneous Objections and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org