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"A Decent Life" or It's the Respect, Stupid


"Necessitous men [women] are not free men [women]," said FDR in his 2nd Bill of Rights speech. This phrase is said to come from a English property law case in 1762.

This morning in the second hour of "UP" with Chris Hayes, Chris had on Greg Fletcher of Our Walmart, Raymond Castillo of Warehouse Workers United, Heather McGee of Demos, and David Frum of free market vampirism. I watch this show to get a bead on what the Democrats are up to and occasionally something really good slips in like hearing real workers talking economics.

When Chris asked Raymond Castillo what he wanted, Raymond replied that he wanted better opportunities, a living wage and safety at work so that he could give his family "a decent life". He and the Wal-Mart manager, Greg Fletcher, were eloquent in explaining why they risked their jobs to fight for some respect in their work place. (I define "eloquent" as the ability to convey sometimes complex ideas very simply). They talked of their children and being able to take them to Knott's Berry Farm or buy them an X-Box if they had a living wage. To give pleasure to someone is a great gift. And as much as we can tsk tsk about video games, a kid likes to be able to have what other kids have. And until we have a different kind of society that is not consumer driven, going to an amusement park is something to look forward to, experience, and then to remember. (In my day it was Riverview and it had some pretty scary rides. At a recent reunion we all recalled being hurled and hurling after going on the ride where the bottom fell out as you were whirled in a giant centrifuge.)

Heather McGee was there to provide the statistics with a report coming out November 19. If you raised the wage a little to $12.25 an hour or $25,000 a year, all kinds of good things happen. "It would lift 700,000 families out of poverty, 5.4 million workers would get a raise, and create 100,000 jobs." How much would this cost? It would cost the whole large chain store sector about $20 billion. The top ten retail companies spend less than that on buying back shares to boost their earnings per share. It would cost consumers 15¢ per shopping trip with the increased price of that flat screen TV. And it would help everybody as the workers immediately pump more money back into retail. Even Raymond wants to buy an X Box from Wal-Mart for his son.

Wal-Mart recently made its biggest quarter profits ever (around 16 Billion) , so why not put smiles on the faces of their employees instead of frowns they wear now by putting those profits into the people who actually do the work? Why not take some of those profits and provide the warehouse workers with safety goggles, gloves, and masks instead of making them buy their own? Why not provide more water for the workers who work in 102º warehouses? Well, the why is obvious. If the workers get hurt or collapse from dehydration, they just get some other workers. And they don't really like the shared sacrifice thing. What they are doing by denying fair wages is theft. And last time I checked, thieving is a sin.

(Frum's contribution, by the way, to the discussion was to interject whenever possible the "hey, that's a free market", "let them eat cake" and "moral schmoral" "why should they [Wal-Mart and other companies] do it [raise wages] if they don't have to? golem mutterings.)

What Raymond and Greg also discovered in a thoroughly grass roots way without the sometimes hefty baggage of being in "organized" labor was something labor leaders often just pay lip service to. They discovered solidarity. The dignity and respect they don't get at their jobs, they get by joining with their co-workers to right the wrongs. They found their voices. That's what a real union does. It allows someone to address their employer as an equal as far as being human beings are concerned. "I am somebody," said the sanitation workers of Memphis in the march that cost Martin Luther King, Jr. his life. "Attention must be paid," said Linda Loman of her salesman husband in "Death of a Salesman".

Raymond and Greg want their sons to look at them with love, but also with pride. They do not want to be bound by debt and in servitude to unfeeling lords. They want to stand tall. They want their freedom. So they have formed a band of brothers and sisters who will watch each others backs and leave no one behind. These are my heroes and heroines. If they are yours, support them. Wal-Mart Strikers Food Fund

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wuming's picture
Submitted by wuming on

It's about disrespect. I have wondered for a long time why so many people in upper management positions remain vehement about holding onto a system that hurts everyone. After all, wouldn't everyone benefit if we had full employment and the most efficient utilization of resources?

And then it hits me, for some people, their personal satisfaction comes from the distance between them and everyone else. And if that distance diminished, they wouldn't get as much enjoyment even if their material conditions improved.

Submitted by MontanaMaven on

Little power trippers.

Submitted by lambert on

Alexa does them to. And since I am almost entirely detached from audio and video media (except what appears here) this is good for me to know.

It seems that the media critique lives on, although changed and matured


Submitted by MontanaMaven on

The workers actually loan each other money to get them to the next paycheck. The more we use the term "mutual aid" the better since mutual aid societies are not or should not be political party affiliated. We have a mutual aid group in my town run by half conservatives and half liberals.

twig's picture
Submitted by twig on

but not about the ride where the floor drops out from beneath your feet!! Fun times with centrifugal force, whoopeeeee!

Sorry for the digression. I really do hope the Wal-Mart workers get wage and benefit increases. You would think the Walton family would be ashamed to have employees on food stamps, but apparently not. Anyway, thanks for the link to the food fund.

There's a book I'm hoping to track down that's about the old A&P stores and how differently big box operations were treated back then. People sort of avoided them for the most part and stuck with the local Mom & Pop places, and the government actually had some limitations on the big stores (forgotten the details, but the author was on a radio show recently). Anyway, it was fascinating because it wasn't that long ago, and look where we are now! I can count the number of M&P stores around here on one hand.

Submitted by MontanaMaven on

If people would only remember mom and pop. Or understand solidarity.

Submitted by MontanaMaven on

I had forgotten the name of the amusement park until I read recently Bill Bryson 's memoir "life and times of the thunderbolt kid" and they had a Riverview in Des Moines Iowa too . I highly recommend it. It combines a memoir with social commentary.

Submitted by MontanaMaven on

Since everything is connected (a tenet I share with Silber), I offer this quote from a 2009 October article:

the victims may only protest within a constricted range of 'permissible' behavior because, when they exceed the prescribed limits, they make the oppressors too uncomfortable. They force the oppressors to confront the nature of what they, the oppressors, have done in ways that the oppressors do not choose to face.")


Jeff W's picture
Submitted by Jeff W on

Thanks for highlighting this segment, Ms. Maven! I think we should mention the following until everyone knows it:

If you raised the wage a little to $12.25 an hour or $25,000 a year, all kinds of good things happen. "It would lift 700,000 families out of poverty, 5.4 million workers would get a raise, and create 100,000 jobs." How much would this cost? It would cost the whole large chain store sector about $20 billion. The top ten retail companies spend less than that on buying back shares to boost their earnings per share. It would cost consumers 15¢ per shopping trip with the increased price of that flat screen TV.

Meanwhile, by contrast, as of 2010, with reference to Costco, its CFO says:

Our average hourly wage in the United States is a little over $19 an hour. Our lowest starting wage in the U.S. is $11. If you're a full-timer, you hit the top of the scale by the end of your fifth year.

Why do they do it? “Because it’s the right thing to do.”

(And, FWIW, the six Walmart heirs hold more wealth than 42% of Americans combined.)

Submitted by MontanaMaven on

"Retail's Hidden Potential: How Raising Wages Would Benefit Workers, the Industry and the Overall Economy."

And thanks, Jeff, for the reminder about Costco which was mentioned on the "Up" segment. I shop at Costco and I know the cashiers by name. Jim has a child with cystic fibrosis and his health care plan is a literal life saver. Everybody smiles at Costco. A living wage is more like $19 not the average $9.61 that these Scrooges pay.

Here is the breakdown of what it would really cost the consumer if salaries were raised:

If retailers pass half of the costs of a wage raise onto their customers, the average household would pay just 15 cents more per shopping trip—or $17.73 per year.
If firms pass on 25 percent of the wage costs onto their customers, shoppers would spend just 7 cents more per shopping trip, or $8.87 per year.
Higher income households, who spend more, would absorb a larger share of the cost. Per shopping trip, high income households would spend 18 cents more, for a total of $36.80 per year. Low-income households would spend just 12 additional cents on their shopping list, or $24.87 per year.

Alexa's picture
Submitted by Alexa on

who's a Wal-Mart manager. A very demanding job, even for the Wal-Mart managers. They also put up with quite a bit, from what I understand.

These folks are truly "heroes" in light of how punitive this company can be toward anyone who dares mention the word "union."

We only shop there if there's no alternative, so boycotting them will not be a problem at all.

Thanks for writing this post. I may start listening (on XM) to Hayes' show on Saturdays. He's better than most MSNBC hosts, at least.

Alexa's picture
Submitted by Alexa on

about the 'Social Security Replacement Rate,' some time back.

Here's a link below to a video clip (just over one minute in length), in which Ms. Janice Gregory, NASI President, gives an overview of our Social Security replacement rate today, and in the future.

[The video is from 2010, just after the Fiscal Commission released their 'toxic' recommendations.]

Social Security Benefit Replacement Rates Already Going Down In The Future [Clip Length: 01:17]

[Sorry, C-Span apparently 'killed' the embed code.]

And the 'Powers That Be' feel compelled to cut "these" rates? Jeeezzz!

Submitted by lambert on

Copy the markup at share -> embed but make sure to use the dropdown to change the size to 560 width or less; YT will calculate the height automagically.