Monday, December 03, 2007

The Walmartization of Education

Wal-Mart's an interesting place. They're a huge success story for corporate profits, yet the people who actually work there can barely afford to buy the shirts their uniform requires, let alone the health insurance that only 43% of their employees manage to acquire. How does Wal-Mart treat unions?

The only union success at a Wal-Mart branch was short-lived. In 2000, staff in the butcher's department at a store in Jacksonville, Texas, voted to join the UFCW. Shortly afterwards, in what Wal-Mart insists was an unrelated move, it closed the department.

Yes, perhaps it was just one of those remarkable coincidences. What happens when a whole Wal-Mart store is in danger of voting to unionize?

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. says it will close one of its Canadian stores, just as some 200 workers at the location are near winning the first-ever union contract from the world's largest retailer.

Wal-Mart said it was shuttering the store in Jonquiere, Quebec, in response to unreasonable demands from union negotiators that would make it impossible for the store to sustain itself.

Oddly, despite over 100 billion in assets, that hard-pressed Walton family can't afford a unionized work force. It's a question of values, I suppose. Now Whitney Tilson, hedge fund manager, voucher enthusiast and vice-chairman of KIPP Academy is running a group called Democrats for Education Reform. So you have to wonder, how does such a "Democrat" feel about Wal-Mart? Well, he's positively bullish, actually, projecting it will double in 3-5 years. Any worries about the company's long-term exploitation of working people all over the world? None that I could detect.

So with "Democrats" like this, who really needs Republicans? Another reason for Mr. Tilson's enthusiasm for Wal-Mart could be the company's continual financial support of charter schools. In fact, Wal-Mart will give up to a quarter-million bucks to folks willing to open charter schools in Columbus or Cleveland.

You have to ask yourself--is the Walton Family Foundation, the same folks who fight unionism by any means necessary, purely altruistic in this venture? Or are they simply interested in weakening one of the last bastions of unionism in the United States of America? And make no mistake, unionism has been in decline since the 80s, when President Reagan busted the only union foolish enough to have supported him.

I started looking at charters with a very open mind. But the more I hear about them, and the more I learn about those who support them, the more I'm convinced they're just another step in the Walmartization of America.

And that's far from a good thing for those of us who need to work for a living. And it's not a good thing for our kids either--if they're attending public schools, chances are good they'll have to work for a living too.

Thanks to Columbus Education Association

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