Get the Scoop on the ‘90’s Biggest Menace to Small Business: Wal-Mart

To celebrate the 24th year of publishing Whatcom Watch, we will be printing excerpts from 20 years ago. David M. Laws has been generous enough to volunteer to review the Whatcom Watch for 20 years ago to find suitable material to reprint. The below excerpts are from the March 1996 issue of Whatcom Watch.

by Sherilyn Wells

You’ve Probably heard by now that Wal-Mart is coming to Bellingham. To understand what that means, you should watch the “60 Minutes” tape on what Wal-Mart does to small businesses and downtowns. Perhaps we should join the group of thoughtful, caring people who attend the Unitarian Universalist church in Bellingham and who have decided to boycott Wal-Mart …

The decent jobs Wal-Mart wipes out in a diversified local economy are usually replaced with part-time, minimum wage jobs at Wal-Mart’s store. Their profits leave the state and Wal-Mart handles its own advertising, so not even the local newspaper profits from their presence. Studies of the goods on their shelves have identified some products of child labor and of repressive governments (such as the People’s Republic of China) and, potentially, of prison camp labor. Reading about the conditions in which manyh child laborers are forced to work could induce a clinical depression over the state of humanity. To expose the Wal-Mart/China connection, Chinese dissident Harry Wu recently came to Washington and delivered a subdued, but horrifying, account of Chinese prison conditions. Strike and economic blow against those systems by refusing to purchase their products!

Closer to home, if we study the example of Aberdeen, a lot of Wal-Mart employees had to go to the food bank after Christmas because Wal-Mart cut back their hours with no warning. At their pay scale, Wal-Mart employees couldn’t survive without assistance. So, Wal-Mart jobs can increase the need for social services in a community and wipe out local family-wage jobs in the process …. Needless to say, Wal-Mart is very hostile to labor organizers.

Just for the record, in order to sneak into our community, Wal-Mart first had to get an annexation through with a minimum of public attention. A potential Boundary Review Board hearing on the annexation was staved off at the last minute by some serious schmoozing with concerned fire department officials (to quote the attorney who finessed that, “Bingo!”). The local law firm that helped Wal-Mart accomplish all that was the Langabeer/Tull/Cullier firm. Thanks a lot, guys.

Let’s make Wal-Mart’s stay a short one—shop with local merchants, with small businesses, in our downtown stores. (If the blood of the ‘60’s runs in your veins, you might even want to picket Wal-Mart.) A community is built on many small choices made every day, and our local small businesses are worth supporting, are worth fighting for! We can always look to Gig Harbor for more suggestion on ways to fight back … they actually kept Wal-Mart out of their community!

Some books and dvds at the Whatcom County or Bellingham public libraries:
“Wal*Mart: The high cost of low price” (dvd, 2005), “Is Wal-Mart Good for America” (dvd, 2005), “The Wal-Mart Effect: how the world’s most powerful company really works and how it’s transforming the American economy” by Charles Fishman (Penguim Press, 2006), “No One Makes You Shop at Wal-Mart: the surprising deceptions of individual choice” by Tom Slee (Between the Lines, 2006), “Selling Women Short: the landmark battle for worker’s rights at Wal-Mart” by Liza Featherstone (Basic Books, 2004).

Books and dvds that are available by interlibrary loan:
“The Bully of Bentonville: how the high cost of Wal-Mart’s everyday low prices in hurting America” by Anthony Bianco (Currency/Doubleday, 2006), “In Sam We Trust: the untold story of Sam Walton, and how Wal-Mart is devouring America” by Bob Ortega (Times Business, 1998), “To Serve God and Wal-Mart: the making of Christian free enterprise” by Bethany Moreton (Harvard University Press, 2009), “Is Wal-Mart Good for America?” by Hendrick Smith (dvd, 2004).

Sherilyn Wells, along with Rebecca Meloy and Lorena Havens, is a founder of Whatcom Watch.


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