Anti-Wal-Mart Escalation: Where are the Farmers?
This week, the world witnessed both another round of well-organized protests against the world’s largest retail giant, Wal-Mart, and a deadly disaster in a Bangladesh factory directly linked to Wal-Mart’s global business empire.
The protests, organized by the worker’s organization Our Walmart, rallied on the evening before and throughout the Thanksgiving-holiday shopping madness. The organizers successfully initiated protests in all but 4 States, representing a dramatic escalation of the path-breaking but small strikes a few months ago in September. Our Wal-Mart is crafting a new organizing strategy that moves beyond the conventional site-fight approach to organizing that we witnessed in Chicago and other cities over the past decade; they are working to organize strikes and protests along the entire length of Wal-Mart’s supply chain.
Our Walmart’s strategy is innovative, fresh, and intelligent, and last week’s fire in Bangladesh demonstrates the important need to expand the burgeoning movement to include broader issues and international cooperation. Currently, the organization is framing its efforts as a labor strike, demanding a living wage and benefits for Wal-Mart workers and those contracted by Wal-Mart. Evidence from the fire in the Bangladesh factory that killed over 120 workers showed that the factory produced clothes for Wal-Mart’s signature apparel lines, with no consideration for workers. The Nation blogger Josh Eidelson quoted the executive director of the Worker’s Rights Consortium Scott Nova claiming that “they [Wal-Mart] are the largest buyer in Bangladesh and so they make the market.” It is nothing new that Wal-Mart’s command of vast capital resources allows it to dictate the price it pays for products, finding factories willing to produce for paltry sums, and the burden of these low prices clearly falls on the shoulders of factory laborers.
None of the media and news reports about the anti-Wal-Mart actions and the factory disaster mention how Wal-Mart’s influence over agriculture and food systems compares to its control over global manufacturing. Wal-Mart is the United States’ single largest grocer, accounting for nearly 25% of the nation’s grocery sales, and reports by Food and Water Watch and the United Food and Commercial Workers demonstrate that Wal-Mart’s practices lead towards increased consolidation and industrialization of the food system and a decrease in the safety of our food. If medium small of medium-sized farmers are included at all, it is only as “contract” farmers growing mono-crops. Wal-Mart consolidation of the food system affects the food chain from farmers on up, including push-cart vendors, community markets, wholesalers, etc.
Wal-Mart is not only an exploiter of workers around the globe but it is also one of the world’s largest perpetrators of environmental and agricultural devastation. Therefore, we ask why farmers are not on the front lines of anti-Wal-Mart escalation and why environmental and food safety is not part of the strategy to end corporate domination over our lives? We need to extend this struggle beyond the confines of the factory, processing plant, and retail store into the fields that feed us.