'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

The First Brick 

A Wal-Mart in Jonquiere, Quebec, has come very close to forming a union. If successful, Jonquiere's store will be the first unionized Wal-Mart in the history of the world's largest private employer. From "Wal-Mart rattled as Quebec store says `oui' to union", AP:

The 165 hourly workers at this store 2hours north of Quebec City could soon become the first anywhere to extract what Wal-Mart insists its 1.5 million workers around the world neither want nor need - a union contract.

A government agency has certified the store employees as a union and told the world's largest private employer to open labor talks.

``One person against Wal-Mart cannot change anything,'' said Gaetan Plourde, a fiery 49-year-old sales clerk in the store's home-electronics department. ``Wal-Mart wants to be rich, but it won't share.''

[ ... ]

``I do think the union thing would be a symbolic blow externally and internally, but they're probably gearing up to handle something like this,'' she said. ``For a retailer, the biggest component of your cost structure is labor, and so you're going to be darn sure you do everything in your power to make sure you avoid an increase.''

Wal-Mart, whose sweeping reach and zealous pursuit of lower prices has made it a potent economic force, does little to disguise its distaste for unions.

It has built such a high wall against organized labor that it's not clear what would happen if a single brick was yanked loose.

Maybe, as has been the case often before, Wal-Mart's bankroll, tenaciousness and skill at buying time will win out and the union effort here will fizzle.

Maybe nothing more will come of it than a few extra cents an hour for a handful of workers - a financial non-event for a company whose annual sales are larger than the economies of all but 20 countries.

Or just maybe something else willhappens - a prospect the union savors: something with an impact beyond Jonquiere.

``It's a little bit like watching a hurricane form,'' says Robert Hebdon, a professor of labor relations at McGill University in Montreal. ``You don't know whether it's going to be just be a little bit of wind . . . or whether it's going to be a storm, a full blown storm.''

via Xymphora

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