Wake up Wal-Mart rocks St. Louis

ST. LOUIS — As part of the nonstop, cross-country “2006 Change Wal-Mart, Change America” tour, over 150 trade unionists, activists and community leaders rallied here Aug. 11. The tour, scheduled to visit 35 cities in 19 states in 35 days, is sponsored by WakeUpWalMart.com and is designed to build awareness and pressure Wal-Mart to become a better corporate citizen.

At the rally, Jim Dougherty, president of Local 655 of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, said, “We need to turn up the heat on Wal-Mart.” Dougherty said that Wal-Mart portrays itself as a community business that cares about working families, but the “real Wal-Mart is cutting wages, cutting workers and cutting health care. Over half of Wal-Mart’s workers don’t have health care — over 775,000 workers.”

Wal-Mart, the largest retailer in the world, employs over 1.4 million people and operates 3,400 stores across the globe, controlling more wealth than most small nations. And while the retail giant’s CEO made $10.6 million last year, Wal-Mart’s U.S. employees average around $8.50 an hour, or around $13,500 a year.

Jeff Smith, who recently won Missouri’s 4th Congressional District primary race, said, “Wal-Mart wreaks devastation upon the countryside. Where Wal-Mart opens, small businesses close.” Commenting on the groundswell of popular activism surrounding the WakeUpWalMart campaign, Smith said, “This is a testimony to the power of ordinary people spreading the word.”

Many speakers connected the fight for higher wages at Wal-Mart with the recent Give Missourians a Raise Campaign, a statewide ballot initiative to raise the state’s minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $6.50 an hour.

A spokesperson for Claire McCaskill, candidate for state Senate, said Wal-Mart “has a responsibility to set the trend for other companies to follow by providing fair wages. … We can all advocate for fair wages and support the Missouri ballot initiative to increase the minimum wage.”

McCaskill’s opponent, right-wing Republican Jim Talent, has voted against raising the minimum wage 11 times, despite the fact that he himself receives a pay raise every year. Missouri Gov. Matt “Baby” Blunt also opposes raising the minimum wage.

Lew Moye, president of the St. Louis chapter of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, told the World, “Wal-Mart made $11 billion in profits last year. They can afford to share the wealth.

“Wal-Mart’s wages undercut good paying union jobs,” he said. “We have to hold Wal-Mart accountable and take action.”