Melissa Harris-Perry and a panel on her MSNBC show on Nov. 25 discussed Wal-Mart, the recent Black Friday strikes, and whether Wal-Mart’s business model of low prices necessitates low wages.
Wal-Mart dismissed the protests as “grossly exaggerated” and called the walkouts “made for TV events.”
There are 200 million customers a week at the retail giant worldwide, many of whom, Harris-Perry said, depend on the company’s low prices.
“Their model seems like it works — at least by one measure,” she said, citing Wal-Mart’s $16 billion in earnings in 2011.
She said that the four Walton’s who rank in Forbes’ list of the wealthiest in the country are worth almost as much as the bottom half of all Americans.
But Harris-Perry said that their wealth comes at a price to taxpayers. One study found that California Wal-Mart workers were 40 percent more likely to be on public assistance, which costs taxpayers $86 million a year.
On the other hand, the liberal think tank Demos claims that it would cost each Wal-Mart shopper an extra $17 a year if the retailer paid all workers at least $25,000 in annual wages.
“While Wal-Mart may not be alone in its low-wage, minimal labor benefits practices, as the nation’s biggest player, it can set the standards that make the difference,” she said.
Moving to a discussion of Wal-Mart’s reaction to the strikes, organizer and author of Making Change at Walmart Dan Schlademan said that the hundreds of workers who went on strike or walked out this past weekend did so despite the possibility they would lose their jobs.
“When our largest private employer is attacking its workers for wanting free speech, we have to stand up against that,” he said.
Harris-Perry asked if people would now link Wal-Mart’s low prices to “a circumstance where taxpayers are subsidizing Walton’s billion dollars of profits.”
“The more that we can have a conversation about the employer role, it takes business, it takes government, it takes individuals to sort of create a social contract, a middle class in this country, and employers have simply walked away from that bargain,” and from accountability, said Heather McGee, vice president of policy and outreach of Demos.
She claimed one Demos study found that increasing minimum wages at the biggest retailers to $25,000 year would create 130,000 new jobs by putting more money in the pockets of the “real job creators in this country, the low-wage workers who spend every dime that they get.”
It would also “lift a million and a half people out of poverty or near poverty” and that if the retailers passed the entire cost of those wage increases to consumers, it would cost an additional thirty cents per shopping trip, she said.
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