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The Tentacle


May 30, 2006

Wal-Mart, Again

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

Inspiration comes from odd and interesting places and sources. Wandering into Wal-Mart recently in search of some odd or end, a ball cap-clad lad and his wife nodded a casual greeting as they passed by.

The ball cap is what drew my attention, not the greeting. It carried an embroidered logo from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), a large labor union representing workers in the electrical trades.

IBEW has been busy lately, and not just representing their members at the bargaining table. During the 90-day legislative session, IBEW was busy corresponding with legislators, sending out political threat letters on two subjects.

The first letters and/or email came during the debate over the Fair Share Health Plan, more commonly as the known Wal-Mart bill. IBEW members were directed by their union to ask legislators to force Wal-Mart to do the "right thing" and supply health insurance to all of their workers.

More recently, the creative writers at IBEW (and most other large labor unions) have solicited their members to correspond with state legislators in Maryland about dismantling the Public Service Commission and forcing Baltimore Gas & Electric to disclose details of the planned Florida Power and Light merger.

On that score, organized labor is fulfilling their obligation to support and sustain the Democratic Party line. Democrats are desperate to shift attention away from the fact the rate regulations passed (in 1999) on their watch is the actual, factual cause of the high electric rates, not anything that Robert L. Ehrlich's Administration has done.

Back to the Wal-Mart issue, another important component of the Democratic Party platform. It has become de rigueur to vilify America's biggest retailer. A recent mailing from Wal-Mart Watch, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the National Democratic Party, reveals their true intent.

During the Fair Share Health Care debate, Democrats argued that their real concern was to force Wal-Mart to provide a funded health care plan for all of their employees in Maryland.

Immediately upon the override of Governor Ehrlich's veto, Wal-Mart Watch unveiled their plan to take this bill nationwide, to have every state enact a similar initiative. The best evidence of the real purpose behind the Annapolis Democrat Party machine is fully revealed in Wal-Mart Watch's latest letter.

The latest letter, dated May 22, 2006, and signed by Executive Director Andrew Grossman, contains one paragraph that lifts the veil of secrecy over the true intentions of Wal-Mart bashers.

Here's the quote: "Wal-Mart has a moral responsibility to protect human dignity, to be self-sufficient, to keep their operations clean, and to be completely transparent with the public."

A braying jackass makes more sense than Mr. Grossman. Since when did a for-profit company have an obligation to be completely transparent with the public? We don't require our own government entities to live up to this standard, how do we ever expect a corporation to do so?

Wal-Mart Watch's statement reads like the missing chapter from some communist manifesto, especially the human dignity bit. Truth be told, this was never about human dignity, cleanliness, self-sufficiency, or transparency. This was, is, and always will be about the fact that Wal-Mart does not welcome labor unions.

Which brings me back to the gent with the IBEW cap wandering down the aisle at the Frederick Wal-Mart. The ultimate failure of the organized opposition to the retail giant is demonstrated by the fact that Wal-Mart understands its own customers much better than Wal-Mart Watch understands its core constituents.

Low prices, wide selections, easily accessible and brightly lit store aisles are much more important to Joe Six Pack than a Washington D.C.-based lobbying campaign. Sure, you can get him to send an email to legislators he doesn't know, complaining about the working conditions of a multi-million dollar retail operation he doesn't really understand.

What you can't do is to stop Joe and his wife from shopping there, spending their hard-earned money, and adding substantially to Wal-Mart's annual and historic bottom line.

Now Wal-Mart Watch has a new battleground. The City Council of Hercules, California, a suburb of San Francisco, is considering using the power of eminent domain, or governmental taking, to prevent Wal-Mart from building a facility in their municipal limit.

There is historic precedent for this unusual extension of the power of local government. Brick, New Jersey, used eminent domain to confiscate land from Home Depot to prevent a big box home improvement store.

The difference is that Home Depot just found another New Jersey location, a community that was happy to welcome them. Wal-Mart will fight the Hercules City Council, mostly because the action sets a precedent that could cascade across the country.

Now maybe Hercules, California, residents wouldn't be caught dead shopping at Wal-Mart. I doubt it, but maybe. The fact is that almost everywhere else they go Wal-Mart serves an important segment of the retail market.

The multi-millionaires who live in the oceanfront mansions and hillside mini-palaces might have no need for reasonably priced merchandise, but the people who work for them sure do.

Hairdressers, landscapers, auto mechanics, teachers, police officers, and firefighters in Hercules would be filling the aisles as soon as store opened.

K Street lobbyists in Washington, Democrat Party leadership, and union fat cats might be celebrating a local defeat of Wal-Mart thanks to government intervention, but the union rank-and-file who pay the dues that fund this garbage will have to drive to another community to be able to shop.



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