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.