Monday, February 14, 2005

Tactics on Walmart & Whole Foods: A Debate

Debate Over Retail Sector Organizing:
Walmart and Whole Foods

From Chicago Indymedia

Up-Scale Wal-Mart Still Center
Piece of New Gay Center

by Bob Schwartz, Gay Liberation Network
11 Feb 2005

Despite union and gay community opposition, the Center board and its director, Robin Burr, forge ahead with the anti-labor Whole Foods a center piece of the extravagant project.

The up-scale Wal-Mart, Whole Foods, continues to rear its ugly head in the proposed new gay Center on Halsted.

Despite union and gay community opposition, the Center board and its director, Robin Burr, forge ahead with the anti-labor Whole Foods a center piece of the extravagant project.

Contact the Center to tell them that the plan needs to be changed to drop an anti-worker outfit as anchor tenant if the project is to have any credibility within the gay and wider community. Tell the Center that a smaller project is also required so as to not drain funds from other worthy community organizations.
__________________

WINDY CITY TIMES
Center on Halsted:
Groundbreaking in the Spring

by Andrew Davis
2005-02-09

The Center on Halsted’s ( COH’s ) new building plans are complete and the groundbreaking ceremony is expected later this spring, according to a press release by the facility.

The statement not only trumpeted the completed building plans but also mentioned that the Center has applied for demolition permits. The release also urged readers to visit the Web site ( www.centeronhalsted.org ) to look at the drawings rendered by the architectural firm Gensler.

In addition, the Center mentioned that it has hired Power Construction to erect the new energy-efficient building. According to its Web site, the Center will encompass more than 93,000 square feet, spread out over three stories. The new building, at 3640 N. Halsted, will feature a retail area [ including Whole Foods, which has sparked protests from pro-labor groups ] ; meeting and office space; performance area; multi-purpose gym; and a rooftop garden.

Comments

*****

Re: Up-Scale Wal-Mart Still
Center Piece of New Gay Center

by Carl Davidson

Bob, if you want to attack the retail sector, aim your fire at Walmart.

Attacks on 'Whole Foods' as an 'upscale Walmart' are off base and only tell part of the story.

It's true that they, Whole Foods, are not unionized, and should the workers there want a union, we should support them.

But you neglect to mention a few points. Whole Foods is a profit-sharing, open information firm. Everyone who works their has access to all the financial information. That's because, in addition to their base pay, each work team gets a piece of the profit each month. What's more, hiring and firing is done by the workers in the work teams themselves--the managers are only to enforce non-discriminatory guidelines on the part of the workgroups. (Don't hire just whites, etc.) Mainly, the workgroups don't like to hire or put up with slackers, since the logic of the system ups their piece of the pie if everyone works more efficiently.

Unions often have a hard time figuring where they fit in in this sort of system, which is one of the reasons their organizing campaigns haven't done so well there. They have to do some fresh thinking.

In any case, Walmart is a low-road, bottom-feeder, crass exploiter, here and around the world, of the first order. They are the largest employer in the country and the poster child of everything wrong with American global capitalism. The unions and their community and business allies should make them target number one to attack, and in that battle, unionized firms like Costco and even more forward-looking non-union firms like Whole Foods, can even be tactical allies.

What we really need is a 'Co-Mart' alternative to Walmart, where clusters of worker and consumer cooperatives can put together larger retail sites that can offer the same or better goods and services as Walmart, but in a more progressive, 'high road' fashion.

This is not pie-in-the-sky, since Coop operations like these already exist in Canada, Italy and Spain, and are doing quite well. More info is at http://www.clcr.org , the site of the Center for Labor & Community Research based here in Chicago, which has produced excellent analytical work on Walmart and the alternatives to it.

*****
Re: Up-Scale Wal-Mart Still
Center Piece of New Gay Center

by Observer
11 Feb 2005

Carl is right on the money. Nevertheless, people with a blatant and anachronic Marxist ideology like Bob's will still reject WholeFoods as it is a private enterprise and not a collective. You just can't teach new tricks to an old dog.

*****
Re: Up-Scale Wal-Mart Still
Center Piece of New Gay Center

by Plumber

Carl-

You are way off.

First: All publicly traded companies have open books. Whole Foods is a publicly traded company (I have stock)

Second: "Work Groups", as you call them, "Teams" as the company does, do NOT hire or fire. The "team Leader" or departmental manager hires, the team can then reject the new member after 30 days. This is only in the case of the very worst employee, if the manager likes him/her they just slide them into another department. As an employee of "will" WFM can fire you for ANY reason, ANY time.

As far as profit sharing one gets two bonus's regularly. A Team Bonus that is based on quarterly profit for the department and for the BEST/Most profitable is never more than $250 per quarter or $5 per day for taking on the responsibilty of profitability for the investor.

Secondly is the "Labor Bonus". This can be quite high for a while. My department (when short staffed and woefully busy) got as much as $300.00 a month, of ten dollars a day- or about a dollar an hour for taking on the responsibility of higher productivity.

Of course each year we'd have to give back some of our labor %. (A formula based on how much we sell, for foodservice we started with a 33.5% of sales, when I seperated it was down to 31.25%, wiping out all hope for a monthly labor bonus but in the most shoprt staffed and hairyed departments.)

All given the $7.00 and hour employee at WFM would still do better as a union member, with full benfits. (I payed $480 a month for the worst damned HMO possible and that was 6 years ago)

The team is just there to keep unions out. Progressives that hear the real story change their tune quickly.

Third: Unions don't fit in because those that try to unionize get fired. Managers have complete control of their feifdoms. As long as the numbers come out right you can get away with anything as a manager. The real impetus for WFM Corp. is profit. The stakeholder closest to Bob Mackey's (CEO) heart if the investor.

I can sit here typing Carl or if you like I can sit down with you and tell you stories of signs in the breakroom telling emoployees that they will be fired if they talk union on company property, of pregnant women fired just before they're eligible for maternity leave, of a team leader fired for filing an EEOC complaint.

I experienced some of the most herrendous stories myself, so if you'd like to meet just say the word, I've got your number.

*****
Re: Up-Scale Wal-Mart Still
Center Piece of New Gay Center

by Carl Davidson
11 Feb 2005

Reply to Plumber:

Thanks for correcting my mistake about team manager hiring, with group approval after thirty days, rather than straight up team hiring. But nothing you say really goes against my main point.

(Although I'm certain that just because I own some shares in Cisco, I am NOT allowed to inspect the books, pay scales, etc, at any given Cisco plant. I'm entitled to there is a sanitized annual report once a year.)

Nor do I disagree with the facts you present about WFM. Of course Whole Foods is capitalist and in business to make a profit. All businesses are. I'm sure there are probably additional outrages at Whole Foods than you mention that make a good case for workers having a union there. You can probably find a few outrages at Costco, too, even with a union.

But my point is not whether it's better for workers to have unions. Of course it is.

My point is that any abuse at Whole Foods or Costco, et al, pales in comparison to Walmart, and that Walmart is where we should aim our main blow. Otherwise, if we aim most of our efforts at Walmart's smaller competitors, mainly because they're easier, while letting Walmart slide, because they're too tough, who are we really helping strategically?

I also presented the 'Co-Mart' alternative that does, in the places where something like it exists, does offer alternative development--under capitalism to be sure--in the direction of Economic Democracy, where workers, consumsers and community stakeholders increase their allied organizational strength and thus have some important measure of control and input, including but beyond simple unionism, even under capitalism.

That, to me, is what represents the best counter-hegemonic project--waging war of manuver and war of position, ala Gramsci--with Walmart, rather than just straight-up traditional unionization.

We should want to fundamentally change the business plans of these companies with greater and great worker control, not just win a bigger wage-benefit package for the workers while hoping for socialism to show up day, a kind of 'waiting for lefty' who never shows up, if you're familiar with the Odets play...

*****
Re: Up-Scale Wal-Mart Still
Center Piece of New Gay Center

by Farlefty
11 Feb 2005

As an employee of a Whole Foods competitor, I can say that even though my store isn't union, the employees at Whole Foods are not treated particularly well. About the only good things that Whole Paycheck has going for it are some of the products, which tend to be organic and they carry some fair trade products. Is it as bad as Wal-Mart? Nope. Is it pretty shitty? Yep. The important distinction that Bob isn't making is that Whole Foods actually sells some decent shit and that it doesn't treat it's vendors like catch-cloths. Additionally, Whole Foods isn't likely to destroy local economies, although I can see how an entire town might instantly be converted to yuppiedom. There are many legitimate criticisms to make of Whole Foods and they need to be made. Comparing it to Walmart isn't quite on the money but I can think of no good reason why it shouldn't be opposed for the community center. Mr. Davidson, I'm missing what makes attack Walmart and Whole Foods mutually exclusive. They both needs better labor standards.

*****
Re: Up-Scale Wal-Mart Still
Center Piece of New Gay Center

by Carl Davidson
11 Feb 2005

Reply to Farlefty:

Yes, they all need better labor standards, but cracking Walmart, the dragger-downer par excellence, is the key link in getting better conditions elsewhere. Plus some real competition from the 'Co-Mart' opton, should it ever come into being...

Here's a link on applying the Spanish Mondragon Coop model to rural America:

http://www.cfra.org/resources/strategies_6.htm

Also FYI, here's the latest on Walmart from the wires, via Drudge...

WAL-MART CHIEF VOWS
TO BE 'EVERYWHERE WE ARE NOT';
SAYS EMPLOYEES DON'T NEED A UNION

Thu Feb 10 2005 21:03:25 ET

"The chief executive of WAL-MART on Friday will defended the retailer's decision to close a Canadian store after its employees voted to form a union.

"You can't take a store that is a struggling store anyway and add a bunch of people and a bunch of work rules that cause you to even be in worse shape," H. Lee Scott Jr. explains in an interview set for Friday editions of the WASHINGTON POST.

Scott says WAL-MART saw no upside to the higher labor costs and refused to cede ground to the union for the sake of being "altruistic."

"It doesn't work that way," he said.

WAL-MART'S decision has infuriated the United Food and Commercial Workers union, which was negotiating a contract for the Quebec store's 190 employees. If it had succeeded, the store would have become the only WAL-MART store in North America with a union contract.

Scott says WAL-MART'S strategy for growth is to be "everywhere we are not."

In the United States, that means edging closer to major cities, such as Los Angeles, New York and Washington, where the chain is likely to find less land, higher costs and stiffer resistance from labor unions and neighborhood activists.

Developing..."


So, break these reactionaries and everyone has a better shot of moving forward.

One final interesting point: Walmart has set up a China division that says it will recognize the China Federation of Trade Unions, and the Chinese Unionists have raised the idea of a global trade union alliance on the issue. Too many unions in the West, however, won't deal with the 'official' Chinese unions, in spite of the fact that it might be in their own best interest to do so. Worth exploring in any case...

******
Opposing Wal-Mart Does not
Exclude Opposing Whole Foods

by Bob with the "blatant and anachronic Marxist ideology"
11 Feb 2005

Carl, remember a few years ago when Whole Foods refused to support the farm workers boycott? That was my first clue that WFM may be bad for workers, while employing all the correct rhetoric about "teams" and stocking expensive organic foods.

There are good reasons to oppose a WFM in the new gay center. This in no way diminishes my opposition to Wal-Mart.

The United Food and Commercial Workers along with other unions have strongly backed gay rights in Illinois and elsewhere. They oppose Whole Foods in the gay Center. Gays ought to repay their support with backing to union shops. Secondly, since most gays are workers not stock brokers, we would likely benefit from a union shop.

Workers in the Madison, Wisconsin Whole Foods Mkt tried to organize but were absolutely stonewalled by the John Mackey management. This guy has even written a book about why unions are bad for business. For that and for keeping unions out, he has been honored by the business community. One could call Mackey "blatant" in his trumpeting of boss rule.

Better pay and workplace democracy are not anachronistic. Except to the bosses bottom line and those who applaud boss rule.

*****
Re: Up-Scale Wal-Mart Still
Center Piece of New Gay Center

by Carl Davidson
11 Feb 2005

I'm not denying any of your points, Bob. Labor needs to organize and the gay community also has every right to shape its center as best serves its interests and those of its allies.

I'm just saying if I were going to take on a retailer/food seller, I'd put Walmart at the top of the list, and Whole Foods would be quite a few notches further down.

But, once again, here's my broader point of debate with simple 'oppositionist' labor and community tactics vis-a-vis Walmart and others like them. They don't do so well. Many of the old-style demands wouldn't do when Walmart bogarted its way into the West Side.

We had a broad, if somewhat unstable, coalition opposing them, including unions. But Walmart was and is more than willing to make deals. Some unionists were willing to cave if Walmart just agreed to use union labor to put up the building, setting aside an effort to unionize the work force for later. And when community groups listed needs for local jobs or their favorite neighborhood or school projects, Walmart was all set to write the checks; they were just asking how much, and were probably willing to give lots more than some of the askers even thought possible to ask for. In that skirmish, Walmart divided the coalition and we lost a round.

This is the key for us to keep hammering away at in our educational, base-building work: Despite their 'donations' and their warm-and-fuzzy media campaign, Walmart would not budge an iota on their basic, low road business plan, which includes not only union busting, but also covert government subsides, racism, sexism, plundering third world suppliers, starving third world workers, ruining environments, destroying local communities and small business, and on and on. And on a scale larger than anything the world has ever seen!

Whole Foods, whatever its anti-union practices, is a bit player by comparison, and on some sustainability issues, they are on our side of the barricades.

That's why I'm suggesting mobilizing all forces--unions, communities, local government, and rival businesses that are a bit better on some issues--to make Walmart the main target and stop them from expanding at all.

At the same time, we need to present a practical alternative of what a high road, pro-union, pro-consumer, pro-environment retail cluster would look like. With labor at the center, we could begin to mobilize the grassroots forces and to leverage the capital and allies to launch the 'Co-Mart' option.

Of course, the option is always on the table for Walmart to fundamentalally change their basic business plan. But then, in that case, they wouldn't be Walmart, would they?

*****
Re: Up-Scale Wal-Mart Still
Center Piece of New Gay Center

by Plumber

Carl -

I've got to disagree with you once again.

WFM's vision of a workplace is especially virulent. The idea that all workers should have a say in the workplace and a piece of the profit is a minimum for a future in which I would want to live.

The problem lies in what WFM is really trying to do with this vision. The vision that the worker should b responsible for profitability with out having a say in how margins raised, products are bought or merchandising is done is ridiculous. IT IS A CAPITALIST VENTURE. The worker is not there to further his/her understanding of a better future, the worker is there to spoon feed and wipe the chin of some yuppie.

A worker should not be held liable for labor productivity for a whole department, not for a dollar and hour. This causes the workers to pit themselves against the others. (I can't tell you how many times my employees would rat each other out for extra long breaks and slacking.)

Yeah Carl, I was a manager. $57,000 I made in the last year i was there. I can tell you about all kinds of meetings, I can tell you about destroying towns ala Wal-Mart (does anyone remember Oak Street Market in Evanston?? Food Co-ops in Ann Arbor, MI, St. Paul, MN and in Madison, WI.

Yeah not only do I have first hand knowledge but I have the broader picture (albeit from a few years ago).

I started out there at $6.00 and hour and lived the American Dream. I was a manager within a few yers and then filled a vacuum in the regional office. So the offer for coffee is still there, just let me know.

*****
Re: Up-Scale Wal-Mart Still
Center Piece of New Gay Center

by Carl Davidson

To Plumber:

Again, you make my point. Even your own story, with all its hassles and pressures, shows how you did better at Whole Foods than you probably would have with a similar effort at Walmart.

You say:

'IT IS A CAPITALIST VENTURE. The worker is not there to further his/her understanding of a better future,' Of course, I never claimed otherwise, only that their capitalist practices were different and better in some ways than than those at Walmart. Unless you're claiming they're the same or worse than Walmart, which I don't think you are.

You also say: "The worker is there to spoon feed and wipe the chin of some yuppie."

I find this curious. Since it isn't literally true, you seem to be complaining that they pressure you to make a big priority of making the customer happy by taking care of the customer's perceived needs as best as you can.

Since I run a small computer repair business of my own, I have a handful of guys working with me, and I always stress to them that I want happy customers, first through decent work, and second, by never making the customer feel stupid, even if the customer made a mistake or did something stupid. Instead, raise their understanding about caring for their machine in a friendly, noncondescending and educational way. If they don't know what I mean, I tell them to try to put themselves in the place of the customer and imagine how they would like to be treated. Is this what you mean by 'spoon feeding' and 'wiping chins'?

Although I like to think I'm practicing a little Buddhist or socialist 'right livelihood' here, it's also sound capitalism, since happy customers not only come back, they tell other people that your work was good and you treated them well, and so they bring you more customers.

It also sounds like you have a chip on your shoulder about 'yuppies' (Young Urban Professionals? I think that's the origin of the term, even if it morphed into 'Die Yuppie Scum!'). Lighten up on them. Not only did they help you earn a living for a while, they're part of the human race, too, and a significant part of the peace and environmentalist movements to boot. Like any other sector, they have a left, right and middle wing. Hell, I'd like to be one myself and could thus relax a bit about paying my bills, but I'm way past the 'young' part!!!

*****
Re: Up-Scale Wal-Mart Still
Center Piece of New Gay Center

by Farlefty
12 Feb 2005

Dear Mr. Davidson,

I can think of no reason why both cannot be confronted about labor conditions. I agree that a focus should probably be put on Walmart but Whole Foods, a fairly large company by now, should also be confronted. As yet, there is no Walmart in Chicago (although it's going to come to damn soon, just like me [hangs head and sighs]) so it would make sense for Chicago activists to do their local bit against other, lesser, retail wage-theives like Whole Foods. Even if Bob does have a "blatant and anachronic Marxist ideology" his objections to the WHM in the COH seems to me to be quite justified.

regards, Mr. Farlefty

*****
Re: Up-Scale Wal-Mart Still
Center Piece of New Gay Center

by DR
12 Feb 2005

Timely discussion. Read on

Quebec Unions Call for Wal-Mart Boycott

by Martin Croteau
Reuters

QUEBEC CITY - Unions for thousands workers in northern Quebec have urged a boycott of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. over its plans to close a store that last year became North America's first unionized Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart Canada, the Canadian unit of the Bentonville, Arkansas company that is world's biggest retailer, plans to close its store in Jonquiere, Quebec, on May 6, laying off 190 workers.

Workers at the store, about 215 kilometers (130 miles) northeast of Quebec City, obtained union certification six months ago and were in talks with Wal-Mart on their first contract. Negotiations bogged down earlier this month, and the union turned to the Quebec government for arbitration.

Wal-Mart Canada said the application for arbitration indicated the two sides were not likely to deal a deal.

Officials for the United Food and Commercial Workers union, a branch of the Quebec Federation of Labour said they may file a complaint with the government's labor relations board and union leaders at local metals and forest products companies said they deplored Wal-Mart's decision.

The Quebec Federation of Labour is the largest union group in Quebec,

Local mayor Jean Tremblay accused Wal-Mart of being a "bad corporate citizen."

"There are labor rules that everybody follows in Quebec. Other large-surface retailers follow them as well," he said.

"I'm disappointed that Wal-Mart decided to shut down the store instead of negotiating an agreement."

The company has resisted union attempts to organize workers at its 1,353 U.S. Wal-Mart stores. It also operates 1,713 Supercenters and 551 Sam's Clubs in the United States.

Unions for other big employers in the Saguenay region also called for a boycott of the three Wal-Mart stores in the area.

"We ask you not to go there anymore. They kill jobs, small stores, they come here and have no respect for the workers," Claude Patry, president of the National Aluminum Workers Union of Arvida, told members on Wednesday, according to Radio-Canada.

"We are going into a meeting tonight, and I plan on asking our members not to buy anything at Wal-Mart," said Richard Cote, an official with the union at the Fjordcell pulp plant owned by Cascades Inc..

The 100 workers at Fjordcell have been locked out since Nov. 1 over stalled contract talks.

Quebec is North America's most heavily unionized jurisdiction, and more than 40 percent of its wage and salary workers belong to unions. That compares with an average 32 percent rate in Canada and 12.5 percent in the United States.

In January, another Wal-Mart Canada store in Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, won union certification and said it hoped to deliver contract proposals by mid-February.

At the time, the big retailer said it was considering all options to block the certification, including legal action against the Quebec Labour Relations Commission.

The National Union of Public and General Employees, which has 340,000 members across Canada, said on Thursday it would support efforts by the United Food and Commercial Workers union to organize workers at more than a dozen of Wal-Mart's 235 stores in Canada.

($1=$1.25 Canadian)

*****
Re: Up-Scale Wal-Mart Still
Center Piece of New Gay Center

by Solution
12 Feb 2005

Yeah, let's drag Wholefoods down the drain so Walmart will finally monopolize the retail sector.

Re: Up-Scale Wal-Mart Still
Center Piece of New Gay Center

by robert rabbits
12 Feb 2005

plumber, i'd like to talk to you more about the whole foods labor issue. robertrabbits (at) gmail (dot)com

*****
Re: Up-Scale Wal-Mart Still
Center Piece of New Gay Center

by DR
13 Feb 2005

Interested in Whole Food's track record in recognizing the right to union representation and collective bargaining for their employees? A glimpse at these story links from Madison IMC might be instructive. Read on.

Whole Foods Workers and Supporters Picket for Union Recognition - Madison IMC

and visit Whole Food Workers Unite at:

http://www.wholeworkersunite.org/

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