Thursday, March 10, 2005

Let's see ... on one side we have the world's largest company, a behemoth that has exerted relentless pressure on workers around the world and has succeeded in keeping itself globally union-free. On the other side are union organizers whose lone victory was rendered null and void when the megacompany shut down the store where the win took place.

Gee, no wonder this New York Times article presents the two as more or less evenly matched.

JONQUIERE, Quebec - Shoppers in this Quebec mill town are about to pay more for ice-fishing gear, snowmobile covers and cheese curds for poutine: the local Wal-Mart is closing this spring....

Workers at various Wal-Marts around Quebec say they are being pressured by both management and labor. They describe a workplace atmosphere poisoned by rumor-mongering, insults and damage to personal property.

Anti-union workers at the Ste. Foy store, which other workers are trying to organize, reported unwanted visits to their homes in the middle of the night by organizers during the unionization drive. Two pro-union cashiers at the Ste. Hyacinthe store outside Montreal reported that they recently had shortages in their registers, which they believe were the work of management trickery to get them into trouble.

"This store is basically hell right now," said Noella Langlois, 53, a saleswoman in the Jonquiere store who opposes unionization. "You have two deeply divided clans."...

Sure, Wal-Mart can shut down a unionized store and put hundreds of people out of work at the drop of a hat, and sure, by doing so it can scare the crap out of Wal-Mart workers elsewhere in Canada who want to unionize, but that doesn't mean all the power's on one side -- hey, the evil Canadian government is after the poor, struggling retailer!

... Quebec's labor relations board recently ordered Wal-Mart Canada to stop "intimidating and harassing" cashiers at a store in Ste. Foy, a suburb of Quebec City, amid an organizing drive....

That's what the Times says today, and it's the truth. Left unmentioned, however, is the vicious punishment dealt out by the merciless Canadian bureaucrats:

The board ordered Wal-Mart to immediately stop "intimidating and harassing" the cashiers in St. Foy. But it imposed a relatively light penalty: Wal-Mart must post the decision in the store's lunchroom for 30 days.

Oh, the humanity!

And meanwhile, back in Wal-Mart's home country, in a not entirely unrelated development, the flood of cheap textiles from China becomes a tsunami:

In the first month after the end of all quotas on textiles and apparel around the world, imports to the United States from China jumped about 75 percent, according to trade figures released by the Chinese government....

In January, the United States imported more than $1.2 billion in textiles and apparel from China, up from about $701 million a year ago. Imports of major apparel products from China jumped 546 percent. Last January, for example, China shipped 941,000 cotton knit shirts, which were limited by quotas; this January, it shipped 18.2 million, a 1,836 percent increase. Imports of cotton knit trousers were up 1,332 percent from a year ago.

These figures may be understated because China ships a large part of its goods through Hong Kong, and those shipments are not included.

Fears that China is going to flood the world market with cheap textile exports have already inflamed tensions between Washington and Beijing because of worries about American manufacturing plants being closed and thousands of jobs being lost....

Recall this China Daily story from a couple of months ago:

The world's largest retailer, Wal-Mart Stores Inc, says its inventory of stock produced in China is expected to hit US$18 billion this year, keeping the annual growth rate of over 20 per cent consistent over two years.

The trend is expected to continue, company officials revealed.

"We expect our procurement stock from China to continue to grow at a similar rate in line with Wal-Mart's growth worldwide, if not faster," said Lee Scott, the president and CEO (chief executive officer) of Wal-Mart.

...So far, more than 70 per cent of the commodities sold in Wal-Mart are made in China....

This is how Wal-Mart keeps prices low. Keeping prices low is how Wal-Mart drives competitors out of business. Driving competitors out of business tightens the job market, which means Wal-Mart doesn't have to worry all that much about losing workers to better-paying employers. And the downward spiral continues to spiral.

Now, why would Canadian workers want to screw up such a good thing?

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