Wal-Mart Strikes Back

Last week, Wal-Mart’s Canadian division said it would close its first unionized store in North America, making Quebec the latest battleground in the retailer’s struggle against unions.

Wal-Mart’s decision triggered vicious rebukes from leftist Canadian politicians. David Christopherson, a Canadian Member of Parliament, even called Wal-Mart’s decision to close the store “economic terrorism.”

It is difficult to understand how workers are exercising their free choice by banding together to negotiate with their employer, but Wal-Mart is the corporate equivalent of Bin Laden because it is choosing not to stay in business under the union’s terms.

Putting that aside, there is a greater irony here. The United Food and Commercial Workers union has spent years blasting Wal-Mart for violating human rights, putting local stores out of business, exploiting workers and being an all around evil corporate citizen. The union has a large presence in Canada, but it is based in Washington, D.C. and has campaigned to unionize Wal-Mart in both countries.

“Quite simply the benefits of having a Wal-Mart in your neighborhood are outweighed by the cost in store closures, lost jobs and other adverse effects Wal-Mart has on a community,” the union’s Website reads.

Based on these statements, one would expect the union to be celebrating the closing of a Wal-Mart in the parking lot like a conquering army. The union has liberated one town from the clutches of the Wal-Mart empire. It should be declared VWM day!

But the union is singing a different tune.

“Fair-minded people who respect the rights of workers call on Wal-Mart to abandon plans to close its Jonqueiere, Quebec, store,” the union urges Wal-Mart’s chief executive, Lee Scott, in an electronic petition. It says the store’s closing would “displace an entire community.”

The union has gone further than the petition, also filing a complaint with the Quebec Labor Relations Commission in an attempt to force Wal-Mart to return to the bargaining table and remain open. The store plans to close in May.

While the union’s efforts are likely to fail even in the labor-friendly Canada, the mere fact that they are protesting the closing exposes myths about Wal-Mart’s corporate hegemony that have become all too familiar in the United States. If all of the scare stories circulated about Wal-Mart were true, the store’s closing would mean a renaissance for the community. It would trigger a surge of new mom-and-pop shops, which would create more jobs that pay better wages. But this is not the case.

The Jonqueiere Wal-Mart employs 190 people, none of whom were forced to work there. If they had better job opportunities somewhere else, they probably would be working elsewhere.

Wal-Mart said that the union’s position on scheduling would have required adding 30 workers to the store, which was financially infeasible. The union disputes that this store was under any financial pressure. Michael Fraser, president of the union’s Canadian division, demonstrated his ignorance of economics when he said he knows this because “the parking lot was full.”

A full-parking lot only means that plenty of people shop there, but it has nothing to do with whether the store was successful. Though Wal-Mart is the world’s largest retailer, with annual sales of about $285 billion, the company operates on razor-thin margins to keep prices low. For every dollar of goods Wal-Mart sells, it only makes about three cents of profit, which means controlling costs is crucial to its business model.

Unions complaining about Wal-Mart’s stinginess might have a better case if Wal-Mart’s top brass were living lavishly. But the retailer’s commitment to controlling costs can be seen from the top down. Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott has a tiny office in the company’s corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. Along with other executives, Scott flies coach and shares budget hotel rooms when traveling.

The union is attempting to force Wal-Mart to work under their terms, even if it means maintaining an unsuccessful store that can’t deliver the lowest prices to its customers. Labor leaders should realize that Wal-Mart is giving the union a taste of its own medicine. It is going on strike.

Domestic Security Democrats

Nancy Pelosi may be on to something. During her portion of the State of the Union rebuttal (I am one of the unprivileged few who stayed awake through it), Pelosi touched on an issue that could be a winner for the Democratic Party.

After a few minutes of laying out the Democrats’ cut-and-run strategy for Iraq, Pelosi said, “Despite the Administration’s rhetoric, airline cargo still goes undisputed, shipping containers go unscreened, and our railroads and power plants are not secure.” This made me think something I can’t ever recall thinking when hearing Pelosi speak: She’s absolutely right.

You don’t need to be a counter-terrorism expert to realize that the United States’ domestic defense is woefully inadequate. Anyone who’s been to a U.S. airport in the last three years understands that the security has changed little since September 11. Sure, the banned item list is a bit longer and travelers get a whiff of each other’s foot odor when asked to take off their shoes. But no revolutionary changes have taken place.

Even though having an air marshal on every U.S flight would virtually assure that there would be no hijackings, only a small fraction of flights have air marshals onboard.

A major subway fire in New York City last month, which was initially blamed on a vagrant, exposed how ineffective security has been in keeping homeless people out of subway tunnels. If homeless people can freely wander through the city’s subway tunnels, how do we expect to control a well-orchestrated terrorist plot against a transportation system that serves millions of people each day?

Examples of holes in our domestic security can fill several volumes, but Democrats have yet to realize that this issue could be their most effective way of opposing President Bush. Democrats must prove to voters that they can be strong on national security, because the issue is going to remain the most important to Americans for the foreseeable future.

John Kerry’s failed candidacy demonstrates how difficult it is for Democrats to wage an effective attack on the president’s national security record from the foreign policy side.

The base of the party’s support came from people who were vehemently opposed to the war in Iraq and generally against the aggressive use of American military power. Moderates may have been skeptical about President Bush’s Iraq policy, but they still supported aggressively hunting terrorists. Senator Kerry was criticized for his inconsistency during the election, but it was the dynamics of his party and the need to appeal to both of these groups that spawned his flip-flopping.

With the elections in Iraq largely being viewed as a success, the Democrats’ predicament on foreign policy has gotten even worse. Now they must choose between engaging in me-tooism or sounding as if they were raining on Iraq’s parade.

That’s why seizing on domestic security issues is the only effective option for Democrats. By becoming domestic security hawks, Democrats would prove to swing voters that they are serious about fighting terrorism. Less-partisan conservatives who have been frustrated with President Bush’s don’t-rock-the-boat approach to the domestic side of national security may even throw their support behind the Democrats’ efforts.

Currently, when Democrats condemn President Bush’s Iraq policy, it leads to charges that they are being unpatriotic by attacking U.S. policy while troops are in harm’s way. This charge could not be made were they to focus on criticizing the president for his domestic polices.

At the same time, the Democratic Party’s left wing would not feel alienated by a hawkish approach to domestic security, because proposing increased airport safety or more thorough inspection of shipping containers does not raise the specter of American imperialism.

But for Democrats to succeed they have to move beyond merely attacking President Bush and instead present a comprehensive strategy for overhauling domestic security.

I wouldn’t count on it, though. We’re more likely to get what Harry Reid would call the Groundhog Day effect. The same ideology over and over again.