Saturday, May 19, 2007

Wal-Mart and Election '08

Ok, by now there remains little doubt that Wal-Mart is one of America's truly evil corporations. The nation's largest retailer employs hundreds of thousands of workers at rock-bottom wages, sells products manufactured in overseas sweatshops**, avoids providing insurance to its hourly employees, and, at all costs, squashes any and all traces of union activity when it sprouts up weed-like in Wal-Mart's garden of exploitation.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Blah, blah, we know. What's this got to do with the election?
Did you know that Hillary Clinton served on Wal-Mart's board of directors from 1986-1992? Well, she did, and you can read all about it in the New York Times. What's more, at the time she was the only woman serving on the 15 person board.
Now what the hell are we supposed to do with this?
OK, Let's try to work through it. My gut tells me that this is another reason to not vote for Hillary in the democratic primary. I HATE Wal-Mart and what it's done to local economies and small retailers across the U.S. Why, I ask myself, would Hillary, a career democrat and Arkansas' first lady at the time, associate herself with a company with such, shall we say, dubious labor practices?
But, of course, it would be too easy (christ, politics are so god-damned dirty) to just condemn her. So I'll control my emotions for a second and look at the bigger picture. So Hillary was on the board of directors of a company that makes no effort to conceal its contempt for its bottom rung employees. Didn't this give her ample opportunity to stick her nose in and try to clean things up? This is no handful of minimum wage earners trying to organize; this is the governor's wife in a real position of influence.
So, who and what did she champion? First and foremost it seems she pushed to have more women hired at the management level. That's great, even if it seems her success was modest at best. After that? There was an effort to make stores more eco-friendly that can be traced right back to Hillary's tenure. Can't argue with that, either.
And yet, yet, where was HRC when the hourly workers needed an advocate? Silent. Why? One could argue that there was only so much she could do, that, being a singular voice in a deeply conservative company, she had to pick her fights. Perhaps labor was too big a bite to take at the time. Perhaps she had to set realistic goals for herself while she had this rare opportunity to initiate change.
But still, if she had to join these vultures, doesn't it seem like she could have done a bit more? I'm not talking about a major overhaul of the company here, but what about health care, for example? This is an issue dear to Clinton's heart. It must have at least bugged her a little that she was being paid $15,000 per annum by a company that would prefer its most vital component--the people who actually work in the stores--live without insurance.
I say she picked the wrong fight, and I find it curious that Hillary, at least according to the Times, is distancing herself from Wal-Mart, even returning campaign donations. I think if I sparked even slight reforms in such a backward corporation, I might put it on my resume. Does this mean the senator feels she should have done more in six years on the board, or is she finally embracing a hardline stance against borderline slave-drivers by treating them like the plague they are?
Who knows? However, in my quest to find the least dirty candidate out there, I'm gonna say that this is a strike against the former first lady, and it nudges her back another notch in earning my endorsement.
PS: The $15,000 that she earned was for roughly 4 meetings per year. How much do you think a cashier earns working full-time? Considerably less, I can assure you.
**There was an video feature in today's NY Times (5/24/07) in which Nicholas Kristof debunks some American notions (mine included) of working conditions in Chinese factories.


Everyone needs a job said...

If they choose to work at Wal-mart then who cares what their wage is

Nate and Jeff Bowler, Co-Captains said...

Because everyone who works a full time job should be paid a living wage, is why.

Josh said...

You made some good points in your posting.

If HRC can't enact substantial change at a retail store, then how can we expect anything more from her in the White House?