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Follow the Dots of Exploitation

The weekly socio-political commentary from activist, Perry Redd

The weekly socio-political commentary from activist, Perry Redd

The time is here; two of the six Walmarts slated for DC are set to open tomorrow.  I’ll be there, but not as a consumer.  I’ll be standing—protesting—in opposition to the store and more importantly, what the store stands for: exploitation.  Not that capitalism isn’t exploitative on it’s own, just that Walmart expands the definition to its totality.

There will be many more that will flock to the store in northwest Washington, DC with low prices on their minds and give no thought to the low wages those serving them will earn.  I look at the history of this country and think to myself that back in the early 1860’s, people were no different.  Cotton products were soft, warm and versatile.  One couldn’t resist the ease with which cotton could be contorted and used.  The slaves that picked that cotton was the furthest thing from the consuming mind.

So here we are, 150 years later, seeing a repeat of history.  The Walton family are the modern-day slave plantation owners.  They remain transparently oblivious to the workforce that will work because they have to eat, have a place to rest their heads and belongings and want to realize “The American Dream.”  The Waltons will insanely benefit from the sub-standard products they sell and buyers will drink in the commercialization of their need to have those products—just like cotton.

For the record, The Walton family is the richest family in the United States and one of the richest and most powerful in the world. Their wealth causes politicians to change allegiances. They are heirs to the Walmart fortune and the company’s largest shareholders, with over fifty percent ownership of stock in the retail giant.

The six Waltons on Forbes’ list of wealthiest Americans have a net worth of $144.7 billion. This fiscal year three Waltons—Rob, Jim, and Alice (and the various entities that they control)—will receive an estimated $3.1 billion in Walmart dividends from their majority stake in the company.  The Waltons have more wealth than 42% of Americans—combined!

This reminds me…by 1860 in the US, 500,000 slaves had grown to 4 million. As long as slavery expanded, it remained profitable and powerful and was unlikely to disappear, much like Walmart. Although complete statistics are lacking, it is estimated that 1,000,000 slaves moved west from the Old South between 1790 and 1860.  That expansion is what Walmart is doing today.  They are opening six in DC alone!

Keep in mind, though the United States claimed to be a “righteous” and “Christian” nation, it condoned slavery—legislatively and culturally.  It took the tacit approval of legislators to create, maintain and eventually abolish the abhorrent human relationship known as slavery.  Today, it is simply known by another name.  Today, legislators—like DC’s legislative Council, refer to depressed wage creation as “a jobs plan.”  Like the slavery system in the 1860’s, everybody had a job.

The oft-used argument that opposing Walmart is to oppose job creation is ludicrous on it’s face, but people only see the face and fail to go beyond the surface.  Walmart store openings destroy almost three local jobs for every two they create by reducing retail employment by an average of 2.7 percent in every county they enter. Walmart cost America an estimated 196,000 jobs – mainly manufacturing jobs – between 2001 and 2006 as a result of the company’s imports from China.

From what we learn from the slave narratives of the 19th and 20th centuries, some slaves earned money, especially as slavery was coming to face it’s end.  Slaves bought gifts for their loved ones and more often food and clothing—many times, from their slave masters.  So earning money for their labor is often characterized as civil and responsible corporate conduct, right?  I’d say “you gotta be kiddin’ me?” 

Working just to survive is no less enslavement than forced labor in lieu of being murdered! Walmart workers average just $8.81 hour. This translates to annual pay of $15,576, based on Walmart’s definition of full-time. This is less than two-thirds of the poverty line for a family of four, and well below what most families actually need to get by.  This is exploitation of those who have great need. 

Our city just witnessed the Walmart corporation aggressively oppose paying it’s workers a “living wage,” and threatened to close down the whole project if the legislators voted to implement this fair pay proposal.  Just like slavery, the most vulnerable lost, and the slave owners won—with the approval of elected officials.

In the end, the dots of America’s slave-laden past lead to today.  Nothing much has changed in the way we do business.  The people are sold bright, shiny objects and told they’re gold, when they’re nothing more than garbage.  Walmart is the new plantation and the slaves believe they’re powerless to overturn the boat set to deliver them into deeper enslavement.  Consumers will do the bidding for the lawmakers who aid the plantation owner in getting richer while everyone else watches…the illusion of their American Dream evaporate before their eyes.

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