In today’s Daily Kos, the great labor reporter Laura Clawson examines the wealth of an average worker compared to Sam Walton’s offspring. According to research by the AFL-CIO, the six Walton heirs total wealth is the same as that of 52.5 million American families (42.9%). The study points out that some families have negative wealth. Adjusted for that, the number of families needed to equal the Walton wealth drops to 1.7 million. However, that adjustment also indicates that many American families have issues with “negative wealth.” Clawson also notes that a Walmart worker being paid $9 per hour would have to work 1,036 hours to make what the company’s CEO Doug McMillon makes in one hour.
Do the Walton heirs deserve to be very rich? I believe they do. Their father created an innovative business model. The bigger question is how much wealth should anyone – rich heir or CEO -- have. What is the cost to society of an economy where a few are very rich and secure and many working class and middle class families are falling behind and less secure?
Several articles on two of my favorite websites, Daily Kos and Common Dreams¸ are reporting on or reflecting on worker actions against Walmart. I call what’s going on “worker actions” because Walmart employees have no union or rights. Hopefully worker actions will turn into consumer conscience and citizen action. We need to understand that we are all in this soup together. Exploitation of one worker demeans all of us.
Laura Clawson of Daily Kos gives us Rush Limbaugh’s take on the protest. Naturally, it’s not positive. Limbaugh whines about an assault on “capitalism and the private sector.” He never mentions how Walmart treats its employees, or how the Walton family has benefited from changes in the tax code, which makes them the biggest “Takers” of all time, beneficiaries of corporate welfare.
Meteor Blades, also from Daily Kos, covers the protests and offers links to follow the action. What I found most inspirational is that the protest are shouting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, slave wages have got to go.” The problem is not that these good people aren’t working or working hard. The problem is that Walmart and so many other employers want to keep every damn dime, nickel, and penny. Who makes up for their miserliness? We do when our taxes pay for supplemental rent, food vouchers, and health care. We help Walmart keep its employees housed, fed, and healthy. That’s corporate welfare.
In Common Dreams, Adbusters aims its Buy Nothing Day cannon at Walmart and blows apart a company whose sole mission seems to be profit based on exploitation of workers (let’s not forget our Chinese brothers and sisters that do so much to keep the Walton Family so rich). Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich adds to a historical viewpoint to this critique. He also points out that a 1% increase in prices at retailers like Walmart would lift 700,000 people out of poverty. But that would not be fair to “Job Creators” like the Waltons. I guess freedom requires poverty and misery.
I don’t shop at Walmart or Sam’s Club or Target. I try to buy local and find new ways to shop for American-made products. Our choices can bring real freedom to many people who live poor lives so a few can be rich beyond reason or morality.