Monday, November 24, 2003

Bargain Buys!...

In the L.A. Times, An Empire Built on Bargains Remakes the Working World, is the first article in a three part series on Wal-Mart and its methodology for driving down prices. It’s an interesting piece. Especially in light of the fact that many jobs, once considered to be pretty solid here in the U.S., are now moving overseas. Computer programmers are quickly facing extinction here in the states. Engineers? Ha! The hotbeds for that type of work is now in places like the Philippines, India, or Mexico. Note that those are supposed white-collar jobs. The Wal-Mart effect primarily hits blue-collar workers. The article notes, “Kelly Gray, the chief breadwinner for five children, lost her job as a Raley's grocery clerk last December after Wal-Mart expanded into the supermarket business here. California-based Raley's closed all 18 of its stores in the area, laying off 1,400 workers. Gray earned $14.68 an hour with a pension and family health insurance. Wal-Mart grocery workers typically make less than $9 an hour.” $9 an hour?! Well, if you work hard you will be rewarded… right? Store managers at Wal-Mart are said to make $95,000 including bonuses. “A management position requires long hours — as many as 80 a week — and, often, a willingness to relocate. Rios worked at six California Wal-Mart stores before taking the helm at Serene Avenue. "It doesn't come free," said Rios, a divorced father who shares custody of his 2-year-old son. Still, he said, the benefits outweigh the sacrifices. "I have an open opportunity. I could go into real estate for Wal-Mart. I could do systems, analysis, accounting. It's endless," Rios said. "If I wanted to go to Germany or Japan or Brazil or any of the markets we have, I believe I could go." 80 hours a week? Do you think there’s a correlation between the “divorced” and “a management position requires long hours”? But it’s all about prices, right? After all, where else can you pick up such bargains? In Part 2 of the series, Scouring the Globe to Give Shoppers an $8.63 Polo Shirt, we’re told of the means and methods Wal-Mart uses to get its foreign suppliers to drive down their prices. “…here in Honduras, under the corrugated metal roof of the Cosmos clothing factory. Isabel Reyes, who has worked at the plant for 11 years, pushes fabric through her sewing machine 10 hours a day, struggling to meet the latest quota scrawled on a blackboard. She now sews sleeves onto shirts at the rate of 1,200 garments a day. That's two shirts a minute, one sleeve every 15 seconds. Reyes, who earns the equivalent of $35 a week, says her bosses blame the long hours and low wages on big U.S. companies and their demands for ever-cheaper merchandise. Wal-Mart, the biggest company of them all, is the Cosmos factory's main customer. Reyes is skeptical. Why, she asked, would a company in the richest country in the world care about a few pennies on a pair of shorts?” Short answer: GREED Dylan had a song, in the ‘80s, titled Union Sundown, which was about the slow but imminent demise of organized labor in the U.S. Well, you know, lots of people complainin' that there is no work. I say, "What do you say that for? When nothin' you got is U.S.-made? They don't make nothin' here no more." You know, capitalism is above the law. It says, "It don't count uless it sells." When it costs too much to build it at home You just build it cheaper someplace else. Well, it's sundown on the union And what's made in the U.S.A. Sure was a good idea 'Til greed got in the way. You know what? Capitalism works… but there is no room in it for greed. We have it under Divine authority that we cannot love both money and God. Jesus, although concerned for the well-being of the poor, did not seem to consider their well-being to be of utmost importance. Here is one of the mandates we’ve been given: to care for those who are in need. It is not the government’s responsibility… it is ours. Do we think about that as we casually spend what would be one person’s weekly wages for dinner? I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no saint in this area. In the meantime, someone better let Wal-Mart know that if they drive too many jobs away from the U.S. then there’ll be no one left who can afford to buy the bargains on their store shelves.

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