Conference asks: Is Wal-Mart good for America?

LOS ANGELES — The UCLA Labor Center here held a special conference on Wal-Mart, June 4. It was educational. It was emotional. And it was packed. Conference participants asked simply, “Is Wal-Mart Good For America?”

Did you know that Wal-Mart is the world’s largest retailer, with $285.2 billion in sales? Did you know that the company employs 1.2 million people in the U.S. – or 1 out of every 112 Americans? Wal-Mart costs taxpayers roughly $32 million each year in health-related services because its workers don’t earn enough to buy health insurance. Wal-Mart’s workers are so poor that they must rely on government assistance. In Alabama, providing Medicaid coverage for children of Wal-Mart employees costs the state between $5.8 million and $8.2 million annually.

The conference heard speakers from the U.S., Canada, China and Mexico describe Wal-Mart’s attack on workers’ rights, the environment and national culture. One Wal-Mart mega-store was built less than a mile from Mexico’s national monument at Teotihuacan, the pyramid to the sun.

When General Motors was the largest corporation and employer in America, it was widely held that “what is good for General Motors is good for America.” However, the United Auto Workers organized GM. The jobs paid good wages with health benefits and the workers had a pension plan.

Now, a new word, “Walmartization,” is tugging at the gains that the working class movement has made over the last 70 years — since the UAW first organized GM.