Excellent article at alternet and The American Prospect about how Walmart is trying to play a game of ‘divide and conquer’ against their many foes, in an effort to gain a foothold in America’s large cities.
“…if residents of Washington, New York, or Chicago expect the company to build more than a bare handful of Supercenters in the poorer, neglected neighborhoods, they will be mistaken. In Memphis, Houston, Atlanta, Cleveland, St. Louis, and other cities where Wal-Mart has faced little or no opposition, it has built just one or two stores in the inner-city neighborhoods. Those communities pretty much remain food deserts for the same reasons other supermarkets have not located there: too much poverty and crime and a dearth of the kind of customers who will spend a hundred or more dollars on their weekly shopping excursion. Instead, Wal-Mart, even more than its competitors, builds its stores largely in white, middle- and lower-middle-class neighborhoods, and in recent years, increasingly in the more affluent exurbs.
The Wal-Mart job promise is also likely to disappoint. Thousands will undoubtedly apply for the several hundred jobs that come with each store. Lines of desperate job seekers are now commonplace every time the word gets out that a new hotel, post office, or retail outlet is hiring. Wal-Mart will most likely overstaff its flagship urban stores for the first year or 18 months. After that, the distinctive Wal-Mart management practices will kick in: barebones staffing, high turnover, and a watchful eye on all those employees who manage to hang on and work their way up the salary scale.
Indeed, the willful failure of Wal-Mart to provide a decent and secure career is the main difference between the company’s labor policies and those of its rivals. Wal-Mart is right to boast that its hiring wage — about a dollar above the minimum wage — is roughly the same as that offered by unionized chains, but if you hire on at Safeway or Giant, it is entirely possible that after a decade of reliable work, you can just about double your wages, build up a modest pension benefit, and secure the kind of regular shift that facilitates a relatively secure lower-middle-class lifestyle. No such career is possible at Wal-Mart, unless you are one of the lucky few who make the leap to store management. (The company boasts that 73 percent of all managers started off as hourly workers. That is true, but the real question is what proportion of hourly workers can expect to rise into the ranks of management, and that figure is both guarded and minuscule.)
In fact, the incentive structure at Wal-Mart severely penalizes any overage in the store labor budget decreed by the computers at the main office in Bentonville. This makes it almost mandatory that store managers churn the local workforce to eliminate those workers who have climbed the salary scale and to keep the flow of near minimum — wage greenhorns plentiful. Without a union, seniority system, or grievance procedure to restrain them, managers are free to be just as flexible as they like, moving workers about and cutting hours or shifts, in the process making the work lives of their “associates” short and unpredictable. “