Friday, February 11, 2005

Economic transition

Babble on.

A number of folks who blog well to the left of me - POGGE, Sinister Thoughts, Voice in the Wilderness - are up in arms (figuratively, of course) about the announcement to close a Wal-Mart in Saguenay, QC rather than give newly-unionized employees an improved deal.

As regular readers (almost a full column out of a small-town phone book, I'll have you know) might have guessed, I'm not a big fan of unions. I'm one of those troglodytes who feel that unions long ago crossed a line between protecting the abused Dickensian masses, and holding employers hostage while encouraging their own members to become economically sedentary.

That doesn't mean I'm unsympathetic to those who will lose their jobs as a result of this. For a number of years, my single mother raised me on a bank-teller's salary. If she'd lost that job because of a battle between a union she didn't vote for and an employer she didn't care for, we'd have been in deep financial trouble. Of course, my mom being who she is, she would have had another job very quickly - sweeping floors at night, waiting tables during the day, moving us if neccessary to find the work. A resourceful lady, my mother, and not one for crying into her drink for too long.

It also doesn't mean I'm particularly enthused about Wal-Mart. My wife and I shop there from time to time when we find a particularly good deal on diapers or some such staple. But most of the stuff in the store is low-end junk. And while I admire many aspects of Sam Walton's story and his influence on retailing, even he admitted in his autobiography Made In America that he drove his employees, including the store managers who really bought into his plan and helped make him a quite sizeable chunk of coin, too hard for too little money, for far too long. When the top executive has that sort of an attitude, it sets the corporate tone, and I have a hunch Wal-Mart hasn't completely expunged it yet.

Having now used up my monthly allotment of weasel-words, I must echo Materry Fenwildini, and point you to this most excellent treatise by Evan Kirchhoff:

But what we absolutely do not owe anybody is the pretense that increasingly valueless labor is worth more than it really is. In fact, I would say that we have a positive moral duty in the opposite direction: our priority should be to discourage young people (for example, through low wages) from becoming lifelong grocery baggers in the first place, since that profession is about to die and their labor is urgently needed elsewhere in the economy. Where would "elsewhere" be? I'm not sure (although I'd start with "plumber" and "housecleaner" and the other manual trades where wage and price increases signal obvious shortages). But it is extremely unlikely, after several centuries in which nearly every profession has been repeatedly destroyed and replaced with something more valuable and higher-paying, and unemployment has decreased to within single digits of zero even while the labor pool has increased dramatically, that the death of the supermarket grocery bagger marks some kind of special tipping-point. I realize that intuitive plausibility will always be on Reich's side; I would argue that on mine is a healthy chunk of human economic history, plus the fact that global poverty is at both an all-time low and a record rate of decrease.


We're all free - thankfully - to make whatever buying decisions we choose, for whatever reason - economic, moral, or any other that tickles our fancy. Boycott Wal-Mart if that floats your boat. But while you're chanting angrily on the picket lines and writing outraged letters to politicians and editors, not to mention blogging the living bejezuz out of the issue, ask yourself if you really want employment at Wal-Mart to become a more attractive prospect than it is now.

Call me a cruel-hearted S.O.B., but I'd much prefer to see each of those displaced Wal-Mart employees doing something far more productive, and far more rewarding with their working lives.

Babble off.

6 Comments:

At 2:42 PM, Blogger pogge said...

Thoughtful post. I'll see if I can work up an answer over the weekend. That's if I can squeeze it in amongst the other subjects I'm "blogging the living bejezuz out of."

(Nice alliteration. ;-))

 
At 4:55 PM, Blogger Timmy the G said...

Gotta echo Pogge on this one. Nicely done. Your mom sounds like a rock, and I get the feeling her self-reliance had a somewhat formative effect on your politics.

 
At 5:25 PM, Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

You're right, Timmy, she did. Or...you're left, if that makes you feel better.

Funny thing is, she used to take me to peace marches at the U of Waterloo in the early 70's; I never had toy guns growing up; I ate one hell of a lot of granola and soy products and tofu; I recycled before anyone had heard of a blue box - get the picture?

I'm still trying to figure out exactly how I got to where I am on the political spectrum - and to figure out where exactly I am for that matter - but I'm pretty sure my mom's example (and much of the rest of my working-class family's example) had a lot to do with it.

 
At 2:15 PM, Blogger JimBobby said...

As my old Pappy used to say... it's an enigma wrapped in a riddle wrapped in a grapeleaf. I'm not 100% sure what he meant by that but it seems like the answer to why you ain't like yer Ma when it comes to polyticks. Most younguns wanna be the opposite from Ma an' Pa. Some say the apple don't fall far from the tree but that don't mean some applepicker ain't scooped up that there apple an' carried it off to Trawna or Vancoover or some other godforsaken place.

Anyways Babbler, I'm just makin' the rounds on some bigtime Canajun boogs an' introducin' myself. I just started my own boog an' I aim to be a bigtime booger like you soon. I like it that boogers can give a good rakin' to them there bigtime media pundidiots like Dan I. Drathernot. Come on over to my boog anytime an' chew the fat.

Yores trooly,
JimBobby

 
At 11:42 AM, Blogger Prolix said...

I'm not certain I buy the "down with shitty jobs" argument, as someone has to do them and they might as well be treated fairly. If their economic power is enough that they can wring more money out of Wal-Mart then so be it. In this case, it doesn't look to be the case...

 
At 11:42 AM, Blogger Prolix said...

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