Wal-Mart & Steven Greenhouse's The Big Squeeze

I read several more chapters of Steven Greenhouse’s The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker last night (click here to view all my posts about this book). It is a good book. But it is so sad to read about how average working class Americans are treated, particularly those working at Wal-Mart.

The first half of chapter six, Leaner and Meaner, focuses on the yelling, screaming, cursing, bullying tactics used by managers at Wal-Mart and other companies to decrease costs and thus increase net profits. But the most interesting part of this chapter was learning how computers, which increase productivity by allowing routine tasks to get completed more quickly, decrease costs because of the ease in which they allow for monitoring of employees, cheating workers on payroll, and other shrewd tactics.

Chapter seven, Here Today, Gone Tomorrow, discusses corporations’ increasing reliance on temporary workers, consultants / independent contractors, and permatemps (click here to read about Jean Capobianco’s story as a FedEx driver, or here to read my previous post about that NYTimes article) while chapter eight, Wal-Mart, the Low-Wage Colossus, is all about the evil ways of the world’s largest retailer and the world’s largest company:

It is three times as large as the world’s second-largest retailer, Carrefour of France. Its sales are greater than the combined sales of Target, Sears, JCPenny, Kohl’s Safeway, Albertsons, and Kroger. … It is the nation’s largest grocer, and will have 35 percent of the nation’s food market and 25 percent of the pharmacy market by the end of this decade, according to Retail Forward, a consulting firm. Wal-Mart already sells one-third of the nation’s disposable dipers, toothpaste, shampoo, laundry detergent, paper towels, and nonprescription drugs, and some say it could soon caputre a 50 percent share for those products. It is the biggest customer of Walt Disney and Procter & Gamble and accounts for 28 percent of Dial’s sales, 24 percent of Del Monte’s, and 23 percent of Revlon’s. Wal-Mart also accounts for 15 percent of the nation’s single-copy magazine sales and nearly 20 percent of all sales of CDs, videos, and DVDs.

The tactics listed by Greenhouse include: end-of-shift lock-in, internal banishment, child labor, slashing schedules, overnight lock-ins, missed breaks, shaving time, hiring illegal immigrants, and sex discrimination (read David Cay Johnston’s Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You with the Bill) to learn more about how Wal-Mart uses tax-financing and other tactics to increase profits).

Thankfully, it looks like the next chapter of this book, Taking the High Road, is about Costco and how it treats its workers better than Wal-Mart. More on this depressing and eye-opening book later…

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