By Saswat Pattanayak World’s largest retailer is about to face the largest class action suit in American history. Status quo of Walmart Stores Inc., thus far maintained through several expensive public relations campaigns and television advertorials, has been challenged by this lawsuit representing interests of more than 1 million women. In a case that will unveil the extent to which corporate America has institutionalized systemic sexism, Walmart and its likes will most likely demand a review, an appeal or shameless dismissal.
Indeed, Walmart has no shame. Its official statement is irresponsible and unrealistically far from the ground: “We do not believe the claims….Walmart is an excellent place for women to work and fosters female leadership among our associates and in the larger business world.”
In its defense, Walmart has clearly taken shelter within the ideology of market capitalism pervading the “larger business world” – a genre of trade policies that has resulted in enormous costs to human dignity, labor and unity. Capitalistic “free” market economy in America has consistently been anti-worker, especially, anti-women. Despite countless judicial interventions and feministic endeavors to ensure equality at workplaces, corporate America continues to treat women workers as invisible and their labor unworthy of rewards. As a result, women in 2010 still earn about 79 cents for every dollar men earn. For women of color, it is way less.
As the most prolific representative of global capitalism, Walmart has an extraordinary share in maintaining existing gender inequalities. Walmart has $405 billion in annual sales, 2 million employees, more than 8,400 stores. Between the Waltons (Christy, Jim, Alice, Robson), personal assets of the owners of Walmart run over $80 billion – the richest private wealth accumulation ever in the world.
From time to time, corporations like Walmart (and Sam’s Club which it owns) have hired more women and workers from various minorities groups. But this is usually done in order to enhance profits through cheaper labor standards. Ironically, thus emancipated class – women and other minorities – prove to be the instruments for higher profits of the unregulated corporations.
After hiring cheaper alternatives in the form of women and members of minorities in their native country of operations, corporations like Walmart then globalize their exploitative expansions for even cheaper labor alternatives to maximize profits. So in Mexico, Walmart becomes Walmex, in the UK, it is Asda, in Japan, it becomes Seiyu and in India it is Best Price. Walmart successfully hires cheaper labors also in China, Argentina, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Canada, among others.
A crucial way of challenging anti-worker policies of Walmart and its likes, is for the workers to join labor unions. And this is one area where the Walton families have excelled in choking human liberties. Walmart has consistently maintained anti-union stances, exposed employees to health hazards, locked in night-shift workers and paid employees below minimum wage. With the forced absence of workers unions, Walmart has ensured that workers get paid below poverty line minimum wage to maintain families and yet have no right to challenge it in an organized manner. And most famously, Wal-mart has opposed the pro-worker Employee Free Choice Act.
The working class of the world needs for this lawsuit to prevail, not merely to send a signal to a corporation that undervalues its employees, but also to encourage all workers to join in solidarity to radically challenge and upstage profiteering monopolists everywhere.