Monday, November 19, 2007

Wal-Mart – Pariah to Pleasantville

This is for all of those people who constantly write to me or write comments to my essays that no one can make a difference. Who would have thought that the biggest corporate pariah could be moved? I know I didn’t, even those who were on the front lines of this thing had given up. It seems that Wal-Mart is moving away from its previous stance concerning health insurance for its employees, to a more nuanced approach. Wal-Mart was notorious among major employers for its lack of a comprehensive health insurance plan to cover its employees at a price they could afford. It looked like Wal-Mart could deliver the lowest prices on everything except health insurance premiums for its employees.

The company, according to data available for the first time, is offering better coverage to a greater number of workers. Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest private employer, provides insurance to 100,000 more workers than it did just three years ago — and it is now easier for many to sign up for health care at Wal-Mart than at its rival, Target, whose reputation glows in comparison.
Wal-Mart has hardly become a standard-bearer for corporate America: it still insures fewer than half its 1.4 million employees in the United States

Because of the pressure and the damage to its corporate brand especially among state legislatures, many of whom were preparing or had passed legislation to force Wal-Mart to upgrade its insurance plans, Wal-Mart has found it now to be in its best corporate interest to begin the process of implementing a more affordable and less onerous plan.

What would cause a behemoth like Wal-Mart to retreat from its long standing policies? It was the constant pressure of those thought insignificant by the pundits, the media, and by the politicians. The thing about the power of the people is that it is not the fastest way to do things, nor is it the easiest. The first thing that happens is that you will be ignored and marginalized by the corporate media and the special interest politicians. The word must never get out that people power changes anything or that it works. They must continue the great myth that individuals cannot make changes, but time and again throughout history that has been proven to be false. People can make a difference, if they are willing to not give up in the face of innumerable odds.

The change at Wal-Mart will never be presented for what it truly represents. What it represents is a lesson to all of us who want to change this country. The lesson is, it won’t happen overnight and it won’t be easy. It means that we have to continue the pressure year end and year out, not succumbing to the temptation to give in. The belief that no one cares and we can’t change anything. It has taken almost a decade to change the corporate mentality at Wal-Mart, however if more people had taken up the mantle it would probably have succeeded sooner.

We must not be fooled into thinking that Wal-Mart developed some compassion and decided to implement these changes for the sake of its employees. Remember these were the same people who were willing to allow their employees to swell the state rolls of Medicaid just so they wouldn’t have to provide them insurance. No, this change was due to the people who continued to highlight the injustice of a company making 11 billion dollars annually in profits and yet cannot afford to provide affordable health insurance to its employees.

The company’s turnabout demonstrates the power of public pressure to change even the biggest corporations like Wal-Mart, which has based its business strategy on low costs at all costs.

What Wal-Mart discovered is that the chorus of critics it had long ignored or blithely rebutted had a point. “We were spending a lot of energy, and we weren’t making any headway,” said H. Lee Scott Jr., the company’s chief executive, who once traveled the country defending the retailer’s practices. “Retrospectively now I say, yes, that plan needed to be improved.”

Make no mistake about it; this is a victory as much as the Orange Revolution was a victory for the Ukraine. We now have to build on this victory and continue to highlight and mobilize public opinion to address the many other issues that confront this nation. The injustice of higher corporate profits and lower wages, the injustice of a criminal justice system that has more people locked up than other nation in the world, and the injustice of a nation where we are still not judged based on character. The fight is long and hard, but if we endure we can move mountains…


No comments:

HTML stat tracker