Monday, April 24, 2006

Walmart and my moral dilemma

Yes, I stress out and agonize over going to Walmart. Funny, eh? Of course, they are so much cheaper than any other store. We don't do a lot of frivolous buying either. I am talking about for diapers, toiletries, over-the-counter medicine, and other mundane items. For our family, being as big as we are and surviving on just one income, barely making ends meet, anything that saves a dollar is absolutely what we have to do. Yet. Walmart is wrong in so many ways.

My biggest gripe is Walmart's exploitation of its employees. It pays terrible wages. It offers little to no (or too expensive) healthcare so that the mostly single moms that it employs must utilize Wisconsin's state funded healthcare (Badgercare), while the low wages ensure that these working poor mothers must depend on Housing Assistance, Child Care Assistance, Food Stamps and other government assistance. Ultimately, that costs taxpayers more because they fund all these programs (see, I can speak Republican, too!). I think it is deplorable that a super-mega-billionaire enterprise like that cannot pay its workers more so that they can really get off welfare (technically WI doesn't have welfare anymore, now it is W-2 Wisconsin Works).

Walmart dazzles us consumers with its super-low prices, so we think we are getting ahead, but really we are just helping perpetuate this cycle of underpaid, exploited workers. Some people say, "Those people don't have to work at Walmart." That is true. However, I worked in the staffing industry. I know that there is an extreme shortage of living-wage paying jobs. At any given time, many of Walmarts employees are those who have been downsized from better jobs and work at Walmart until something better comes along.

Sadly, for these people there is more often than not no something better. Wisconsin, for sure, and many other states have shipped their manufacturing jobs to Mexico or overseas. What is left is Walmart and other McJobs.

Consumers (myself included) must shop with conscience. Do we continue to perpetuate this cycle of supporting super-mega billionaire companies that screw their employees? Or just say fuck it, there is a sale and I really need an extra $1.50 off this pack of toilet paper? I believe that if we were all willing to spend a little more at the checkout, we would all be a little better off. Lower taxes because we won't be supporting McJobs. Better lives for McEmployees (hey, I never said it would make your bosses stop being dickheads!).

So here is my idea. This is just a thought and probably way to simplistic to ever work. Probably some Econ God can explain how it is a pipe-dream and totally unrealistic.Heck, even in my heart I know it is unrealistic. But, whatever. I will explain it anyway.

Do we always have to have the latest MP-3 player or Gameboy or whatever other game system my lame self doesn't even know the name of? Could we wear the same pair of pants maybe two winters instead of just one? Do we really need so much New Stuff all the time? Maybe if we cut back on buying New Stuff constantly, we could afford a little more for essentials like food and clothes. Then wages would increase, our taxes would decrease, and we would have more money to spend on stuff again! I know, Econ God, it probably would never work. But MLK Jr. had his dream. I have mine.

6 Comments:

Anonymous Susan said...

I think it sounds like a fine idea. I hate (a word we are not allowed to use in our home, but I do, I hate, hate, hate) Walmart for so, so many reasons and I NEVER shop there. Somehow, my personal little boycott just isn't quite enough, I am not accomplishing much beyond maintaining my own sense of social conscience.

I say, let's take your dream and run with it.

24 April, 2006 22:13  
Blogger Michele said...

I am such a hypocrite about Walmart. I hate what they do to small businesses when they move in. I hate the creeping feeling that one day they will be our only option. I hate the way they exploit their workers.

But I still do make an occasional stop there for basics like diapers and baby food and razors and toothpaste. And I am already wearing my three year old pants and two year old sneakers and arriving in my 10 year old car. We are not "working poor" but we are "working, paying bills and cutting corners to have extra money for the occasional pizza - middle class" and it's hard to not be sucked in by the lower prices when we are still a week away from payday. I am my own worst enemy that way.
I love the way you write and you are right on with what you are saying. I will try to be a more responsible shopper.

25 April, 2006 08:48  
Blogger HomeFireBlue said...

Do we always have to have the latest MP-3 player or Gameboy or whatever other game system my lame self doesn't even know the name of? Could we wear the same pair of pants maybe two winters instead of just one? Do we really need so much New Stuff all the time? Maybe if we cut back on buying New Stuff constantly, we could afford a little more for essentials like food and clothes. Then wages would increase, our taxes would decrease, and we would have more money to spend on stuff again!

I just wanted to say that I love you.

This is one of my frequent sermons and you've inspired me to climb back up on my soapbox and blog about it again. If people would just live this A TINY BIT, things would change. I really beleive that.

-Blue

25 April, 2006 15:21  
Blogger scarbie doll said...

I totally agree with you. It's even more apparent here in Canada, where Free Trade means the Walmarts of the world have not only infiltrated our country, but are squeezing out a lot of smaller, Canadian-owned stores and businesses.

I was shopping with my sister yesterday, and I realized that this what we do as a species. Shop. It really grossed me out when I watched other shoppers, hunting for their treasure, for items they probably already have or don't really need. How f*cking progressive is that? Where the hell are we going?

But if we are going to hell, I guess many of us would rather do it in a pretty handbag. I just wish we weren't always searching for the cheapest thing possible and cared more about the quality and integrity of the products we buy.

Check out the book No Logo by Naomi Klein. It addresses your thoughts with scary facts about globalization and consumerism.

30 April, 2006 10:08  
Anonymous mausfrau said...

The heck of it is that a lot of the time, Wal-Mart's prices aren't really even all that much better, at least if you live in a medium-to-large community. Wal-Mart's "everyday low prices" are about the same as Target's, and Walgreens', and K-Mart's, but if you live in a small town, you're not likely to have all of those available, and the local businesses--assuming there are any left--can't compete.

I used to shop at Wal-Mart all the time because there was a huge one right by my office, and I could go in there after work or at lunch and buy groceries, clothes, household goods, plants--everything I needed, all in one place. But now I never shop there, for several reasons (employee injustices, union busting, etc.). Then last year I finally broke down and went there because I was looking desperately for maternity t-shirts that didn't have Spandex in them, and nobody in town had any.

I was a little surprised at how cheap everything looked after having not shopped there in many years. I don't know if they used to carry better stuff, or if I had just built up a tolerance to it when I was going there all the time. :-)

Anyway, regarding not buying New Stuff: this is one of the principles of the Center for a New American Dream, www.newdream.org. Their motto is "More Fun, Less Stuff." :-)

02 May, 2006 11:59  
Blogger macboudica said...

Thanks for the tip Mausfrau!

02 May, 2006 12:41  

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