Friday, March 29, 2013

Off the Wal-Mart

In case you still needed a reason to boycott Wal-Mart, hate Wal-Mart, protest Wal-Mart, picket Wal-Mart, avoid Wal-Mart like the plague, I think this might finally be the breaking point for those die-hards who still think it's worth it to stand in a sweaty line for an hour to save 10 cents on a bottle of Chinese shampoo.

Store executives, worried about recent bad sales figures and competition in the indigent consumer market from the Dollar Store franchise and Amazon, have hit upon a novel idea to suck every last bit of economic marrow from the emaciated public -- use desperate Wal-Mart shoppers to deliver online orders to the homes of other Wal-Mart customers -- and reimburse them not with a paycheck, but with store coupons that will barely cover the cost of their gas.

Just in time for Easter (and April Fools Day) Reuters has gotten the scoop on this truly rotten egg of an idea hatched in the vulture's nest of a retail board room. According to the reporter, though, the sociopathic plan is simply "radical":

Tapping customers to deliver goods would put the world's largest retailer squarely in middle of a new phenomenon sometimes known as "crowd-sourcing," or the "sharing economy."

A plethora of start-ups now help people make money by renting out a spare room, a car, or even a cocktail dress, and Wal-Mart would in effect be inviting people to rent out space in their vehicle and their willingness to deliver packages to others.

Such an effort would, however, face numerous legal, regulatory and privacy obstacles, and Wal-Mart executives said it was at an early planning stage.
Wal-Mart currently uses carriers like FedEx Corp for delivery from stores - or, in the case of a same-day delivery service called Walmart To Go that is being tested in five metro areas, its own delivery trucks.

"I see a path to where this is crowd-sourced," Joel Anderson, chief executive of in the United States, said in a recent interview with Reuters.

Wal-Mart has millions of customers visiting its stores each week. Some of these shoppers could tell the retailer where they live and sign up to drop off packages for online customers who live on their route back home, Anderson explained.

Wal-Mart would offer a discount on the customers' shopping bill, effectively covering the cost of their gas in return for the delivery of packages, he added.
Even though Joel Anderson lives inside a bubble within the rotten egg gilded with gold plate, Bloomberg News thinks he deserves credit for thinking outside the Big Box by using slaves with cars and rusted-out pickup trucks to augment Wal-Mart profits and his own multimillion-dollar pay package. Still, will Walmart shoppers be willing to work for nothing?  Will they actually even deliver packages instead of stealing them?What if they cause an accident while clunking across town with loads of guns and ammo, tainted toothpaste, and Chinese dog food? The experts in Brooks Brothers suits with Harvard MBA degrees are at least admitting that their toxic germ of an idea is "fraught." How will people react, for example, when a random Wal-Mart shopper suddenly shows up at their door with their internet order?

 Well, I guess if they're that scared of the Wal-Mart volunteers, they can always call 911, and a volunteer cop will show up at their door. Up in my Ulster County neck of the woods, the cash-strapped town of Saugerties is copy-catting Wal-Mart and and has just started advertising for unpaid police volunteers to write tickets, direct traffic, answer the phones and otherwise free the paid police from such humdrum scut work as minding an army of Wal-Mart couriers.

As I wrote in a previous post, the American plutocracy is yearning for the glory days of feudalism, if not downright slavery. Leave it to the world's largest retailer, whose heirs own more wealth than 40% of all Americans combined, to lead the charge back to the future. 


Jay - Ottawa said...

Look at the bright side: toothpaste laced with antifreeze keeps your teeth from aching as you suck in the cold of a northern winter. And, if you swallow enough while brushing, you’ll be protected from frostbite down to your fingertips.

Why malign China, which fills shelves at Dollar Stores with the good things of life while creating more jobs for clerks and shelf stockers? “Free trade” good; protectionism, bad. Right?

Our president – in two years (so far) of secret negotiations (to speed things up) with private corporate types (job makers) and excluding public interest types (loosers) – has been working on another NAFTA, only much bigger, called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Truthout gets deep into the weeds with a tediously long article about TPP. You really don’t want to read it, unless you’re into weighty penance on Good Friday. Here, without the depressing detail that tells you how far along Obama is on passing TPP, are summary paragraphs to give you a general idea of what’s coming next at the Dollar Store. Think of TPP as an international grand bargain to match the still-pending domestic grand bargain.

“The TPP has gone through 16 rounds of negotiations in almost total secrecy. Some portions of the text have been leaked, but most remain secret. Throughout the process more than 600 corporate advisers have been working with the US Trade Representative in shaping the proposals and specific language of the text. Civil society has only been marginally involved, not provided drafts and ushered into stakeholder meetings where they can ask questions but only receive vague answers.”
. . .

“The TPP is the battleground for defining democracy in the 21st century and setting up the rules for international commerce in the era of transnational corporate power. No matter what issues you are concerned about, if the TPP becomes law, it will undermine national sovereignty and hopes for progressive policies that put the people's needs before corporate profits.”

Zee said...


I can just see it now.

Some typically-inappropriately-attired Wal-Mart customer—maybe like the gal pictured at the bottom of your article, Karen—shows up on my doorstep, telling me that (s)he has my order from

From behind my iron-work security bars I say, “Excuse me while I go get my .45 before I open my door to a non-uniformed, total stranger in order to sign for the package. I hope you won't mind terribly much a handgun being held at low ready in your general direction while I scribble my “John Hancock” on the delivery slip?”

Will the package will be hurriedly dropped on my front porch sans signature, or will the delivery person return it, posthaste, to the store? It's a toss-up, I think.

Zee said...

It's amazing, the mental effort that Wal-Mart expends to shave costs only by treating both their customers and their employees shabbily.

And yet, other retail chains can be highly successful while treating their employees with respect and paying them a real “living wage,” instead of the crappy $10.55 per hour ($21,944 per year) that San Francisco—one of the most expensive places in the nation in which to live—laughably deems to be a “living wage.” (This tidbit was included in the Arizona Daily Star article provided by @Fred Drumlevitch in the previous thread.)

Trader Joe's is amongst our favorite places to shop, and I have always been impressed by the attitude of their employees: knowledgable, helpful, and positive. And now I know why. Their starting, full-time employees (“crew members”) can earn as much as $40k-$60k per year, which is, indeed, a “living wage” not just for an individual, but even a family (At least, out here in fly-over country, and maybe even in San Francisco.)

I haven't had time to research Costco, another place mentioned in the first article where we shop frequently, but the article suggests that their employees do comparably well.

Trader Joe's does this without the coercion of “living wage” laws or unions.

It amuses me that unionized grocery store employees are upset at this and think that Trader Joe's should unionize, as in this 2009 article:

“Union representatives have been picketing the new [Trader Joe's in Minneapolis-St. Paul] this week, carrying signs urging shoppers to boycott Trader Joe's for not employing union workers. Trader Joe's average wages are higher than the average union employee, and the company benefits and retirement plans are available to employees working over 20 hours a week. And it seems that the staff are happier, when the checkout clerks hand me my receipt with the standard 'Have a nice day!' they seem to be a little more sincere at Trader Joe's than other chain grocery stores.” (My bold emphasis.)

So what those union organizers really want is to bring Trader Joe's employees down to their dismal level in the search for some distant, “greater good,” when, in some improbable future, all grocery store employees are brought under the yoke of the union and everyone is treated "equally." No wonder that Trader Joe's employees don't want to be “organized” for their own good!

Retail corporations can succeed even while they pay their employees real living wages, and their customers see the difference in the employees' attitudes. It's just a matter of corporate conscience.

Toxic Granny said...

Does this also include items in the store we would like delivered? I am
interested in the latest assault rifle advertised on sale as I am fed up with my noisy neighbors and their late night parties which I am never invited to.
They could sign for me to avoid information about my background
which is nobody's business. Thank you.

Toxic Granny (Bam Bam Bam).

spreadoption said...

Uh-oh, Toxic Granny. Now you've gone and done it. You've announced on an open, public forum your intent to cause mayhem against your neighbors. Expect a loud knock on your door soon from the FBI and Obama's Red Guard (Oh, you didn't know he has that?). As I recall that you live in Canada, expect the "visitors" to include some of those private guys from Xe Services, along with your RCMP, of course.

On the other hand, though, you have started going by a nom-de-plume, so maybe they won't figure out who you are. (Yeah, right).

Just in case, then, you really should build up an arsenal to complement that portable machine gun you're ordering from WalMart. That way you can hold 'em off (all the while, proclaiming your 2nd Amendment right to do so)... well, until the drone gets there, anyway.

Good luck, Toxic Granny. Your friends here at Sardonicky would love to join you in support, but President Bush told us to go shopping in times of crisis, and we feel a stronger responsibility to support the corporate US economy rather than you, so we'll probably be in WalMart about that time.

Jay - Ottawa said...

Since I’ve never visited a Trader Joe’s, or paid them any attention until today, I tried to learn more on line. After reading a little about this quirky chain of “neighborhood” stores owned by an unusual German family catering to a niche market of mostly yuppies, I have to agree that any union attempt to organize its workers seems nuts.

The employees, according to the articles I just read, confirm what you said: TJ employees are well-paid, get benefits and are treated well – except maybe for the part about having to wear Hawaiian shirts on the job.

BTW, what percentage of the grocery industry does Trader Joe’s represent? Aren’t most grocery stores very, very, very different in the way they treat employees? For that reason, isn’t the anomalous Trader Joe’s a somewhat unfair springboard to launch an anti-union rant? As a scientist, don't you admire Karen's counting of the big numbers of Wal-Mart?

Can you admit the possibility that unions are the last resort to improve the state of tens of thousands of grocery store employees across the nation by pressing the Waltons of the world to pay a living wage? Do you advise that we wait patiently for Wal-Mart and other big chains to come around to Trader Joe’s philosophy? How long might that take?

For many decades it's been left to unions to force wages up and otherwise protect workers who, without union organization, would still be working long hours for poverty wages, ruining their health, perhaps as early as age ten in coal mines, or as seamstresses in a locked-up sweat shop on the tenth floor.

Unions – not nice owners, not the oh-so-moral churches, not the Congress on its own initiative, not lucky bystanders snug in their comfortable homes – brought about every single reform workers, unionized or not, take for granted today. Until, as in recent years, those reforms were rolled back by nice industrialists and their kept politicians.

To repeat: UNIONS, warts and all, save millions who work with their hands, as well as their heads. Understandable that we who spend most of our lives pushing paper around in air conditioned offices might not identify with people who sweat at manual labor.

Push a union down and you're really pushing down people.

old guy said...

@Karen, is this an ‘Onion’ piece? Or actual stupid is, as stupid does, Walmart Board?

Has the Walmart Board of Directors considered bringing back carrier pigeons? Just for the small deliveries, of course. At the end of their work day, instead of feeding the pigeons, just send them to the meat department, and serve the birds deep fried or rotisserie.

For the heavier stuff, what about using drones? The cash-strapped town of Saugerties might get a few from Obama, and use volunteers to make deliveries. Attach the package, dial in the customer’s GPS coordinates, and release the bundle over the customer’s home, with a little plastic-bag parachute attached to break the fall.

@ the cash-strapped town of Saugerties, from Wikipedia:

"The village land of Saugerties was obtained from Esopus Indian Kaelcop, chief of the Amorgarickakan tribe. Governor Edmund Andros purchased the land on April 27, 1677, for the price of a piece of cloth, a blanket, some coarse fiber, a loaf of bread, and a shirt. The village was incorporated in 1831 as "Ulster," and changed its name to "Saugerties" in 1855.",_New_York

That’s a deal even the Walmart-Walton gang could love.

Denis Neville said...

Like Jay, I’ve never been to a Trader Joe’s. Reading about how Trader Joe’s treats its employees, one has to ask, why don’t other companies get that paying employees better leads to happier employees and less turnover and higher productivity and happier customers?

@ Jay, excellent comment - re: Zee’s use of the anomalous Trader Joe’s as an unfair springboard to launch his usual anti-union rant.

Our record high economic inequality and the growing disconnect between productivity and wages are not the result of the economic physical laws of nature. They are directly linked to the political attacks that have undermined collective bargaining laws. Organizing labor should be a civil right. Unions are often the last resort for oppressed workers. Our society has grown dramatically more unequal over the past quarter century. The economic gains of workers after World War II have vanished in part because organized labor has gone from encompassing one-third of the private sector workers to less than one-tenth. The future of the American middle class depends upon rebuilding the labor movement.

Yes, as Jay wrote, “Push a union down and you're really pushing down people.”

Getting a delivery from a Walmart customer?

The richest family in America wants us to deliver their stuff for them?

Not only do they not pay their employees a fair wage, now they are seeking to exploit their customers!

“The moneylenders have finally gotten Jesus out of the temple.”

It is David vs. Goliath, underpaid part-time workers vs. Walmart. Walmart exists and thrives because of the creation of vast poverty by vulture capitalism. It is a vicious cycle of exploitation and dependence. Walmart is stridently anti-union because it fears that a unionized workforce would threaten its cut-every-last-penny business model. So they persist in paying low wages, arbitrarily cutting employees hours so they won't qualify for benefits, then encouraging them to apply for state benefits like food stamps, Medicaid, etc. Meanwhile, Wal-Mart buys the same politicians who rant and rail against those benefit programs, calling people who use them takers, parasites, and worse. Wouldn't it just be easier to reinstitute feudalism?

Barbara Ehrenreich has written of these low-wage “pariahs,”

“When someone works for less pay than she can live on - when, for example, she goes hungry so that you can eat more cheaply and conveniently - then she has made a great sacrifice for you, she has made you a gift of some part of her abilities, her health, and her life. The 'working poor,' as they are approvingly termed, are in fact the major philanthropists of our society. They neglect their own children so that the children of others will be cared for; they live in substandard housing so that other homes will be shiny and perfect; they endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices high. To be a member of the working poor is to be an anonymous donor, a nameless benefactor, to everyone else.” - Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America

Pearl said...

Jay: Regarding your comment regarding Unions, I grew up in the Amalgamated
Cooperative Housing Development in the Bronx, N.Y. where most of the
apartment owners were Russian Jewish immigrants who worked in the clothing
centers of N.Y.C. They had organized the mighty ILGWU, International Ladies
Garment Workers Union, and a major president of that union, David Dubinsky was our next door neighbor in the Amalgamated for a few years. He and other
leaders formed the Liberal Party that had influence in politics during the
depression years and was a viable third party at the time.
I remember all the political activities involving the ups and downs of that Union and the battle between the Socialists and Communists the latter of whom were pushed out and which divided the Union. The leaders were very arrogant and although they created decent working conditions for garment workers, the CEO's lived very well.
One of the major tragedies of our times is the weakening of the power of
unions and inability to move forward with more equal distribution of the
nation's wealth. However, many of the unions created their own problems by
political and other dissension in their ranks. The right wing is a major
enemy since many union members voted for liberal representatives during
election times especially during the depression years.
Reading about the ILGWU history in Wikipedia brought back many memories of those dramatic years.

James F Traynor said...

Really enjoyed reading the comment string this morning. Especially Jay's retort to Zee. If all conservatives were like Zee we wouldn't have a need for unions, but they aren't and we do.

And I had a chuckle over that Saugerties deal mentioned by 'old guy'. I don't know that much about the indians involved, but indians, generally, seemed to have thought land ownership to be a particularly amusing concept. That chief must have considered them nuts to pay for something the indians didn't own for something the whites couldn't have. I wonder how this country would have turned out had Tecumseh's efforts won out - and they almost did.

And Pearl, you must be even older than me and a former Bronx neighbor. I lived on Willis Ave, back in the day, and I remember the Liberal Party.

Zee said...

“Can you admit the possibility that unions are the last resort to improve the state of tens of thousands of grocery store employees across the nation by pressing the Waltons of the world to pay a living wage? Do you advise that we wait patiently for Wal-Mart and other big chains to come around to Trader Joe’s philosophy? How long might that take?” —Jay—Ottawa


Before answering the questions asked in the foregoing paragraph, let me say that the principal point of my earlier post was only to show that some businesses, operating in highly competitive retail sectors, can pay their employees good wages, treat them decently, and yet be highly successful, and to wonder why the Wal-Marts of the world can't do the same.

Yes, I did find it pretty funny (and you called it “nuts”) that a union would try to organize the employees of a company that already treats its workers far better than unionized workers—as did the writer of the 2009 article that I quoted—but I don't think that constitutes an “anti-union rant.”

Moving on to answer your questions, yes, I readily admit that unions are the last resort to improve the lot of thousands of grocery store employees across the nation—and millions of other types of workers, as well. Without the hard-won successes of the labor movement from the early 1900s through the 1940s, this country would now be a pretty miserable place in which to live.

And no, I don't advise waiting patiently for Wal-Mart and other big chains to come around to Trader Joe's philosophy. That would indeed take too long, perhaps longer than this country has if it is to survive.

I believe that I have clearly said elsewhere in this forum that I am not anti-union, and with a little Googling I could probably find the various places where I did so. I know that I have mentioned that my maternal grandfather was a union man, and he probably couldn't have given his wife and twin daughters the good life that he did without his machinists' union, which could have, in turn, affected whether I was even born or not, something in which I have a bit of a stake, don't you think?

What I object to regarding unions—and I know we have discussed this before—is the use of membership dues for political activities that may conflict with individual members' particular beliefs. I won't even object to “closed shops,” as long as dues are used only for direct union activities, with members having the option to make—or not make, as the case may be—additional contributions to a separate political action committee. If it doesn't offend my libertarian sensibilities too much that individuals should be forced to join unions just to have a job, those sensibilities are grievously offended when said individuals are further forced to contribute to political causes with which they may vehemently disagree.

I believe that I have also said before that public employee unions should not be allowed to make political contributions at all because of the incestuous relationship that it creates between unions and politicians, but I could live with the foregoing, less restrictive limitation on public-sector unions—segregating dues from political action contributions—mostly because I think that the political contributions will quickly dwindle to a tiny trickle of money.

I still believe that public employee unions should not be allowed to strike, whether or not they work in sectors that affect essential public health and safety. As we have also discussed before, government employees have a special responsibility to their employers, which are all of us.
But I don't think that makes me anti-union or a union-hater.

I just believe that both private- and public-sector unions require some reform related to their dues and political activities, and I also believe that if the reforms that I have suggested are made, public support for union-busting will wane as union membership is made more palatable to the general public.

James F Traynor said...


God, your'e naive.

old guy said...

re James F Traynor, @Tecumseh

Thank you for the reference to Tecumseh.

"In September 1809, William Henry Harrison, governor of the newly formed Indiana Territory, negotiated the Treaty of Fort Wayne in which a delegation of Indians ceded 3 million acres (12,000 km2) of Native American lands to the United States. The treaty negotiations were questionable as they were unauthorized by the President and thus the United States government, and involved what some historians compared to bribery, offering large subsidies to the tribes and their chiefs, and the liberal distribution of liquor before the negotiations."

Memo to self: Liberally distribute liquor before I negotiate my next property deal.

"Tecumseh's opposition to the treaty marked his emergence as a prominent leader. Although Tecumseh and the Shawnee had no claim on the land sold, he was alarmed by the massive sale as many of the followers in Prophetstown were Piankeshaw, Kickapoo, and Wea, who were the primary inhabitants of the land. Tecumseh revived an idea advocated in previous years by the Shawnee leader Blue Jacket and the Mohawk leader Joseph Brant, which stated that Indian land was owned in common by all."

Indian land was owned in common by all? Dammed communists!

"Tecumseh met with Indiana Governor William Henry Harrison to demand the rescission of land purchase treaties the US had forced on the Shawnee and other tribes. Harrison refused."

"In August 1810, Tecumseh led four hundred armed warriors from Prophetstown to confront Harrison at his Vincennes home, Grouseland. Their appearance startled the townspeople, and the situation quickly became dangerous when Harrison rejected Tecumseh's demand and argued that individual tribes could have relations with the United States, and that Tecumseh's interference was unwelcome by the tribes of the area. Tecumseh launched an impassioned rebuttal against Harrison."

"(Governor William Harrison), you have the liberty to return to your own country ... you wish to prevent the Indians from doing as we wish them, to unite and let them consider their lands as common property of the whole ... You never see an Indian endeavor to make the white people do this ... Sell a country! Why not sell the air, the great sea, as well as the earth? Did not the Great Spirit make them all for the use of his children? How can we have confidence in the white people?"

Zee said...


Well, I've been called worse...

Where am I being naïve?

By suggesting that union members might be better off thinking for themselves and sending their political contributions where they wish them to go, rather than letting their union leaders contribute oodles of dough, year after year, to the same old Permanent Political Class with whom the “leaders” are so cozy?

How's that workin' out for them? How has that changed the political landscape? Looks to me like “Same ol', same ol',” from [Bill] Clinton to Obama to Emmanuel and back to [Hillary] Clinton again in 2016. Plus ça change, yada yada yada.

As @Denis has remarked, “The economic gains of workers after World War II have vanished in part because organized labor has gone from encompassing one-third of the private sector workers to less than one-tenth.”

And what have the very politicians to whom unions have contributed all that money done to reverse this trend? Have you seen an increase in union power during Obama's administration? Perhaps I have overlooked some important news, but I haven't seen any great union successes under BHO.

Still, based on Toxic Granny's (Pearl, I LOVE that self-appellation!) history lesson regarding the ILGWU, I'll bet the union CEOs are still doing very well. That never changes!

Where was The One during the Chicago teachers' strike, or as Wisconsin was dismantling collective bargaining and mandatory union membership for state employees, both in 2012 and both well pre-election? Yet I think I can guess where those same unions still sent their hard-earned cash come November, 2012.

What good has it done them now?

All I'm trying to do is develop some ideas that might preserve the viability of unions by making them more palatable to their members and to the public at large, and, yes, I'm balancing my libertarian principles against the acknowledged facts that unions are necessary but flawed in their current form.

I guess I'd rather be considered naïve because I'm trying to think of possible alternative models, than not to be thinking at all.

Pearl said...

To continue the union conversation, it is obvious that globalization has
destroyed the unions and it is especially true of the garment workers,mostly women. Canada has also suffered the loss of jobs for garment workers since it is relatively easy to set up sweat shops in poorer countries where women have little opportunity for work and are usually adept at sewing, etc.
There are other reasons for union losses but as long as the rest of the
world is able to produce goods for less we are at a disadvantage. I read an item recently that stated that when inexpensive clothing does not sell in the U.S. they are donated to nations in Africa for example, which cuts off jobs in those countries for their workers. One statement was that we should learn to buy and use fewer clothes which is less wasteful and inefficient.
Try to tell that to consumers! And what is to stop Trader Joe from closing shop and going out of country, leaving workers in the lurch should they fall on hard times? Unions had options and power in the past to prevent such catastrophes
or at least force companies to compensate the workers.

Once, in my younger years I took a job as a waitress at Unity House, a
summer resort in the Poconos which was run and owned by the ILGWU and
offered inexpensive vacations for union workers and their families. I soon found out along with my fellow staff members, that we were paid less than peanuts for the honor of working there which was ironic for a union
establishment. After attempts to improve our earnings with the powers that be, we finally decided to go out on strike and did. This became such a
public embarrassment that we were able to improve our working conditions
somewhat. I will never forget the feeling of triumph that we younger
children of union members felt as we used our family experiences to fight
for our rights!
I also remember David Dubinsky and his fellow union leaders coming to Unity House for a week-end where they were treated like royalty and received food and other amenities and attention beyond what the actual union worker guests enjoyed. We found it very symbolic and one of the reasons for the decline of
the union in later years was the intransigence of the entrenched leaders who were used to power and prestige.

James, I am amazed that you are a Bronx denizen, but where is Willis Avenue, I could not find it on a map. Yes, I am old enough to be respected finally,(90 in a few months) which I find shocking to contemplate and cannot figure out how it all happened. But I cannot tell you how I treasure belonging to Karen's entourage which is a delightful gift to stumble upon as it is for
all of us. It is a joy to read all of your contributions which make me feel
much younger and despite the despair we all share, more hopeful that what we say here will not go unnoticed. I truly believe that we are the role models for the younger generations who will learn soon enough the reality of life in the wealthiest and most dangerous country in the world.

I am sorry the Indians didn't buy or win the entire damn country. We would
be better off.

4Runner said...

Pearl, We wanted to thank you for your comments & contributions---truly pearls of wisdom!!

An aside: my wife's mother was named Perla, an immigrant to Canada (Montreal) from Ukraine.

Zee said...


I, too, would like to thank you for your personal observations regarding the IGLWU, particularly the disparity in treatment between the union hoi polloi and their "CEOs," as you described them in one of your posts.

I think that your conclusion that "one of the reasons for the decline of the union in later years was the intransigence of the entrenched leaders who were used to power and prestige" is quite correct.

It's unknown to me that this disparity is quite so great today, but perhaps memories of times past still make the average worker suspicious of unions today.

I also applaud you for taking a lesson from your elders and striking for better working conditions, and winning.

You go, girl!

Jay - Ottawa said...

Were there no heroes in the labor movement? At the end of the day, with all their faults, were/are unions worst than no organization?

@ Zee
Accepting you as an earnest seeker, @James nevertheless and with his usual candor cut to the bottom line with his charge of naïveté. I agree with his appraisal and, in spite of your fresh protestations, will take the fool’s mission to elaborate.

You say without apology you cling to libertarian principles. Then you aver you’re mostly pro-union, somewhat grudgingly, but totally against union involvement in politics or the right of public unions to strike even in sectors not essential to health and safety because they work for “us” who pay their salary.

“Us” is a bit removed from “us” when you reflect how a Governor like Scott Walker and his allies in the legislature initiated war on the union and were avidly preoccupied for months with screwing public employees at every turn. Walker’s campaign against the public unions, by the way, was amply funded by libertarian friends of liberty like the Koch brothers. Again, whose side are you on?

Let’s examine core beliefs based on libertarian principles. What is a libertarian? A libertarian is a lucky guy who thinks he pulled himself up to where he is by his own bootstraps and, furthermore, that Ayn Rand speaks wisdom when she advises her followers not to share their excess with the needy. In her view, the lucky are deserving, the cream that has risen to the top of humanity. As for the unlucky, they are culpably inferior, incompetent and undeserving. Narcissus always trumps the Good Samaritan. Therefore, libertarians are encouraged to stop any dilution and diminution of their own high cast by not wasting their plenty on those upon whom Fortuna does not smile. Dismiss the ancients who told us a man doesn’t even own the ground he stands on.

Libertarians of the world, consider this. Pure luck got you the right parents. Pure luck got you a brain good enough to propel you through schools whose degrees helped you land a job that paid for a comfortable life. Pure luck got you citizenship in a very special country – or at least a protected corner of it – where you weren’t forced to struggle daily to eat or to run for your life periodically just to stay alive with the clothes on your back. Additionally, pure luck hasn’t let untimely disease or accident obliterate your tomorrows.

Libertarians are by definition at odds with most serious social programs. Individualism, yea; solidarity, nay. The measure of what is good is what is good for one’s self. That’s libertarian social philosophy in a nutshell.

Jay - Ottawa said...


A post or two ago @Fred linked us to a week of photos about poor people, many of them single mothers, struggling to keep going. Their days are spent in lines, in cheap jobs, in scratching together food on a hand-to-mouth basis. No wonder they are too exhausted to find a way out of the maze of poverty. You say you looked at the spread.

In their recent book, Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco tell us there are many unlucky people like that in a spreading number of unlucky places in America. In face of this widening misery, and with an inkling about root causes, how does one cling to libertarianism, not with doubt and misgivings, but with open pride?

What contributes most to the spread and intensification of poverty? Is it culpable ignorance and putative indolence of the unlucky, or the coupling of libertarian entitlement and indifference from Wall Street and its fans?

In this light, what should we think about unions? Aren’t unions merely an underpowered common front available to the unlucky to demand from the powerful a fraction of the abundance not willingly shared by the lucky?

Unions are by definition group efforts. Division equals death. Libertarianism is by definition opposed to the banding together essential to secure a modicum of leverage by the lower class. “Open shop” arguments, a subtle alternative to Pinkerton thugs, are designed to undermine union solidarity by “defending” and promoting individual choice. It’s the bosses who so nobly promote personal choice over group solidarity. Not to see through that is naïve.

Here’s how to avoid being mistaken as naïve about the union struggle. Grudging support of collective bargaining boils down to anti-union sentiment. Re-assess the “open shop”/”closed shop” debate with a peek at the forces behind it. Avoid using aspersions like “the yoke of the union” or recommending reliance on the “corporate conscience” for reform – God, you're naive – or the disapproval implied by phrases like “the coercion of ‘living wage’ laws” and “forced to join unions.” People might suppose you lifted these phrases from the corporate playbook.

Robert Knight said...


[I refuse to succumb to the anti-literate Twitter neologism of "@Pearl"!]

As a proud returnee to the South Bronx, WILLIS Avenue, two blocks east of Morris, runs southward from 149th Street to the Deegan Expressway near 138th St., where it terminates in the Bronx' southernmost local span into Manhattan -- the "Willis Avenue Bridge."

I, too, remember David Dubinsky, and revere the ILGWU, and especially the IWW "Wobblies" in these days of routine union "no-strike" sellouts.

Pearl said...

Jay, you asked me:
Were there no heroes in the labor movement? At the end of the day, with all their faults, were/are unions worst than no organization?

My answer is that I was surrounded by them all my life but they were usually
the ones fighting the system whether it be a Union organization or those
trying to destroy it. Especially in my early days when the activities and
motives and actions of the ILGWU to which I had a front seat, were
complicated, mostly by the differences, weaknesses, greed or anti-greed of its members and leaders.
The purposes of unions are basically meaningful, necessary and needed except that different unions and its leaders and members did not always agree on the these exact purposes. This happens to any organized group which can be 'successful' in their aims only if there is consensus and therein lies the kernel of the problem.I was reading about the complicated political positions within many unions where the struggle for leadership, differences in obtaining their ends, how to work together to those ends often destroyed and weakened the particular
union's structure. Socialists against communists (real members or
prejudiced beliefs), non political members resenting any kind of politics
invading their union, right wingers, closed shop and open shop, different
pay rates for training and experience, ad infinitum. Reading this kind of union history on the Internet shows the prevalence of differences rather than consensus much of the time. The most serious situation is when Communists (some were members others judged to be communist) were ousted from several major unions when they had been the backbone of their birth and activities (Walter Reuther of the UAW and many more listed on the
Internet were involved in these purges during the cold war.)

And of course the constant attack by the right to any attempt at unions
maintaining their power and voice doesn't help. This is just a simplification of a very large problem in American society
which many of you writing in would be more knowledgeable about. I must say
this has been one of the more interesting topics of discussion I have found on our Sardonicky site and important because it touches at the core of so many things wrong that unions have tried to rectify. The existence of unions should be a major part of our working class culture but not with the conflicts that have become a part of it which mirrors the larger society it inhabits.

I hope I am making some sense as it is very late but I am a night owl (as
some of you it seems) and wanted to try and say how I feel about your question, Jay. I would love to know that unions are a beacon for our working class but cannot see it doing so without being able to prevent the corruption surrounding them in our society and affecting their operations which I feel is a terrible, and tragic loss. The whole system in the U.S. has to be turned on its head and only
then can the need and purpose of and for unions flourish.

One of our dearest friends was a man we knew who had spent his life in Detroit working to build cars and was a member of Reuthers UAW, fighting for workers rights as well as fighting against the political policies of his union leaders and
of his country. He was a left winger (not a member of the Communist party, which by the way is and was legal in the U.S.) and had fought against the prejudice for his beliefs by his Union. He died without hope for the future a few years ago, feeling all his life's work had been for naught although I tried in vain to tell him that one day things would
change. He was a true hero, Jay, although he never realized it. And so are many others I have
been privileged to know whose voices have been silenced in many ways. We
have to speak for them now as Karen is so effectively doing.

To be continued?


James F Traynor said...


I no longer live in the Bronx and haven't for many years. Willis Ave. still exists and I'm surprised you couldn't find it. It runs a short distance from the East River north to 149th St - what we used to call the Hub. I've visited it via Google World and marveled at the changes; it is almost unrecognizable to me today.

I got a kick out of your adventures in the Jewish Alps. My God, things are so different from those old days. When I was a kid Willis Ave had street cars and was cobblestoned and horse drawn wagons sold produce and carried ice for our iceboxes.

James F Traynor said...

And I wore Knickers until I was 10. My mother finally relented, after I told her I had to fight to get down the damned street. But I didn't say 'damned'. And Willis Ave made Ripley's for having the most bars per mile in the whole, whole world. Love ya, Pearl.

Zee said...


You ask me, “Again, whose side are you on?” Well, apparently, I'm on too many sides to be taken seriously in this forum.

During the year or two that I have been participating in this forum, I have tried to pay attention to what the regular contributors here have said, and remember what they stand for. Unlike Denis, I can't memorize every word written, but there are not so many “regulars” here that I can't keep track of their general beliefs and political positions.

But apparently, every word that I have said has been completely forgotten by at least some—and probably most—here at Café Sardonicky. When I first arrived here I stated that I was trying to find some common ground between myself—a Thinking Conservative—and Progressives. I believe that I said that I would expect that there would be many areas of disagreement, but that we might also find areas in which we couild work together for the greater good. I have not been completely disappointed in this endeavor, and some of you have even persuaded me that I have been wrong in some of my positions and forced me to change my outlook.

You have completely forgotten the areas in which (1) I already agree with Progressive positions, (2) you have changed my outlook completely, or (3) you have at least forced me to re-examine some of my own values. I'm not going to waste my time reiterating these areas: they are out there in digital “print” to be seen and recollected.

But now this! Jeez! You accord me the status of an “earnest seeker,” but because I use the term “libertarian sensibilities” in a remark about unions with which you happen to disagree, I suddenly become a flaming Ayn Randian discipile of heartless, absolute individualism and a willing tool of the Koch Brothers and corporations? Give me a break! If I haven't said it before, I will say it now: I am a Thinking Conservative first and, at best, a small “l” libertarian.

Perhaps this leads to some internal inconsistencies in my moral makeup, and this offends my “scientific sensibilities,” if you will. If it offends you and James, too, well, so be it. I call it “being human.”

If you want to disagree with me on unions, well, again, so be it. But don't accuse me of sociopolitical values to which I clearly don't subscribe, just because I'm not in perfect lockstep with your perspective on unions—which, as with all things Progressive often seems to require absolute and total ideological purity. Deviate from that position an iota and a formerly “earnest seeker” becomes a pariah.

I agree with you and James that I am naïve: naïve, I guess, to expect that you might look at the totality of what I have said in this forum, and not let the use of two words, “libertarian sensibilities,” turn me into something I'm not.

In closing—and then I will have said all I'll say on this topic—I'm going to quote something that Fred Drumlevitch said over at Reality Chex in a slightly different context, which I think is relevant here:

“Progressives need to peel votes away from the center- and the right-wing demographics. Stereotyping or dismissing anyone as right-wing [or, in this case, a Lunatic Libertarian] on the basis of one or a few issues has no upside, it’ll only lose votes for progressivism. In general, I believe that demanding too much ideological purity is bad strategy and tactics — and is why the Republican Party, despite its supposed power, is traveling towards an evolutionary dead end....Telling us (or anyone, of any political persuasion) to go away won’t make the problem[s] go away.” —Fred Drumlevitch, Reality Chex, January 9, 2012

pete v said...

Bûter, brea, en griene tsiis; wa't dat net sizze kin, is gjin oprjochte Fries. "Butter, rye bread and green cheese, who cannot say that is not a genuine Frisian."

Zee got burned in cartoon ideological effigy for daring to bring up the anomaly of Trader Joe's in a typical crazed anti-union rant. To expect another reaction? Naive, indeed.

Pearl said...

Zee: I feel sorry that you feel that your efforts to educate yourself
politically are being ignored. I think it is important that we all feel free to speak honestly about our views on all the complicated challenges of this era in the U.S. and to respond to different points of view between us. We need to hear different approaches and if some of us seem impatient it is because we have lived for so long with the tragedy of what has been happening in our country without anyone listening to our complaints that we become irritable with good reason. You are obviously an educated and intelligent man (yes some Republicans are) and some of your personal experiences and your reactions are of interest even if we don't always agree with

So please keep signing in as we can all learn from each other. But I will
disagree with you on one particular comment about Obama being forgotten once he leaves office. Zee, the shitpiles he will leave behind will keep him in our thoughts.

More and more recent articles about the real harm Saint Reagan has unleashed on America are appearing in the press and I feel Obama has become his reincarnation. I predict that in time the harm our current President has done will begin to be reported and not just from your party when evidence of his malfeasance will become obvious.
Would love some responses to these thoughts.

Kat said...

I don't think unions are perfect by any stretch of the imagination-- and it's not just the leadership, but I will always feel they are necessary and I definitely believe that the government needs to support worker's rights to bargain collectively. It is a pipe dream to expect that the ownership class will always voluntarily treat their workers well as soon as they see this works for some companies. For one thing Aldi-- the company that bought Trader Joe's does pay its workers significantly higher wages but it is a privately held company. As for Costco, it doesn't have much to recommend it to me except for the fact that it pays better wages to the floor staff.
I think some of the critiques that Zee offered concerning unions we would probably all agree with.
I also think it is important to find common cause with conservatives.

Zee said...

Pearl and Kat--

Thanks for your words of encouragement. I plan to stay around as long as Karen will have me.

And Pearl, I you have persuaded me to rethink my knee-jerk assertion that Obama's "legacy" will be forgotten the instant he leaves office.

The stinking mess with which he and his predecessors have left us will remain with us "penny groundlings" long after Barack and Michelle have embarked on pursuing the "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous."

I am still trying to re-assess the legacy of Ronald Reagan who, I think, had some positive points, but I am prepared to be further educated.

Certainly, Clinton, Bush and Obama, each have left us sitting upon an ever-growing, steaming heap, with no relief in sight.

Whoever succeeds Obama will be rightfully pointing back to him for our woes, just as Obama pointed back to Dubya and Bubba.