At the new Walmart superstore in the Chinatown district of Los Angeles, a Thanksgiving turkey costs a little over $30 (£19). The shop is kind enough to distribute ready-made holiday shopping lists to its customers, reminding them to buy cornbread mix and cranberry sauce, ground ginger and pumpkin pie. Yet not everyone can afford to stock their cupboards with each provision on the list – least of all Walmart’s own employees.
This week a photograph was widely shared online, of an informal appeal by Walmart associates in Canton, Ohio, asking their co-workers to donate food to colleagues without the funds to cook their families a Thanksgiving dinner. Those who do contribute will doubtless buy the supplies at Walmart, thus dropping their meagre wages straight back into the company’s coffers. The Arkansas-based retail giant is the world’s biggest private sector employer and no other firm so starkly epitomises the staggering income disparity that defines the US economy. With more than $145bn between them, the four members of the Walton family who control the Walmart fortune are each among the 12 richest people on Earth. Their combined wealth is greater than that of the entire bottom 40 per cent of Americans. [...]
On Monday, the US National Labour Relations Board (NLRB) found that Walmart had unlawfully threatened its employees with reprisals if they chose to strike on “Black Friday” in 2012: the day after Thanksgiving, traditionally one of the busiest shopping days of the year.
Some of those who did strike were unlawfully disciplined, the NLRB said. OUR Walmart claims the company has disciplined more than 80 workers since June and fired 20 who had acted as labour leaders.
And yet, according to a new report by the liberal think-tank Demos, Walmart has the wherewithal to pay its workers significantly better. Last year the company spent $7.6bn buying back its own stock, thus boosting its share price and the Walton fortune. But if a portion of its profits were instead redirected to a 50 per cent pay-rise for employees, then all those working full-time, year-round would earn at least $25,000, just as campaigners have demanded.
The report suggests that if other large retailers followed suit, more than 1.5 million US workers would be lifted out of poverty and their contribution to the economy would create at least 100,000 new jobs.
Read the full report: A Higher Wage Is Possible