Oscar Reyes. Heard the one about the worldwide union mobilisation against Wal-mart, the global supermarket chain which owns Asda in the UK? Well, don’t hold your breath. A Union Network International (UNI) conference in Chicago, which brings together service sector unions from across the globe, has opened a ‘channel of communication’ with the company. Experience shows that this may not be enough to change the behaviour of a firm George Monbiot once called ‘the most ruthless employer in the world’, and whose own propaganda site dedicates considerable effort to bashing unions. But some positive initiatives have come out.
A global day of action in 2006
will target the Wal-mart supply chain, covering textile and garment, food
and transport workers; and a global organising fund to help unionists in the
global South is being considered. A campaign to unionise Wal-mart’s 3000
workers is Korea is planned for September. And dialogue will open with unionists
in Russia, India and Turkey – thought to be the next countries on Wal-mart’s
global shopping list as it seeks to take over retail chains worldwide.
The UNI conference heard that Wal-mart workers in Bangladesh can earn as little as $15 a month for working a 12-14 hour day, seven days a week. Last year, Wal-mart made a $10 billion net profit. (In case you’re wondering what it’s like to work for Wal-mart, then you could do worse than to read Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed.)
Wal-mart has pioneered supermarket efforts to undermine collective bargaining and erode labour rights, but conference delegates also heard warnings of the dangers of ‘Wal-martisation’. Margret Mönig-Raane, of German public sector union Ver.di, told of German retailer Lidl’s efforts to prevent unionisation by dismissing people who attempt to organise works councils. (see Every Lidl Hurts, Red Pepper March 2005).