Saturday, August 02, 2008

Big business takes aim

So far, the US presidential campaign has focused on the two candidates, with most of the other attention going to Republican fringe elements, like James Dobson. But now, Big Business is flexing its muscle on behalf of McCain and the Republicans.

For example, the Wall Street Journal reported that “In recent weeks, thousands of Wal-Mart store managers and department heads have been summoned to mandatory meetings at which the retailer stresses the downside for workers if stores were to be unionized.” While Wal-Mart is savvy enough not to directly tell employees how to vote, they “make it clear that voting for Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama would be tantamount to inviting unions in, according to Wal-Mart employees who attended gatherings in Maryland, Missouri and other states,” the paper reported.

Pushing specific candidates to its executives, shareholders and salaried managers is legal, but it’s illegal to do that to hourly employees. Store managers are salaried, but department supervisors—who were at these meetings—are hourly workers. "I am not a stupid person. They were telling me how to vote," a Wal-Mart customer-service supervisor from Missouri is quoted as saying.

Wal-Mart, the USA’s largest employer, is notoriously anti-union, with allegations of intimidation and retaliation against pro-union employees. The WSJ noted:

On June 30 the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Wal-Mart illegally fired an employee in Kingman, Ariz., who supported the UFCW and illegally threatened to freeze merit-pay increases if employees voted for union representation. The decision came eight years after the organizing campaign failed, and four years after the case was originally heard.

Wal-Mart and Big Business generally are especially worried about the pro-union “Employee Free Choice Act” now before Congress, and are trying to get it defeated. Somewhat dishonestly, Big Business is trying to portray itself as the underdog in the battle, arguing that unions will outspend them. This ignores, of course, the contributions coming from wealthy business owners and senior executives.

Maybe most telling, though, was a chart with the WSJ story showing the percentage of federal campaign contributions given by Wal-Mart’s political action committee over the past five election cycles. In 2000, the paper reports, 85% of the company’s contributions went to Republicans; so far this year, only 52% has. Do they see a pro-Democratic result coming? After all, despite occasional appearances to the contrary, Big Business didn’t get to be “big” by being stupid, did they?

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