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April 11, 2004 - Last night I dreamed I saw Joe Hill...

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Last night I dreamed I saw Joe Hill?

No, not really. 
Class warfare is in the air.


Many months ago in these pages I had the occasion to make some comments on Wal-Mart.  See September 1, 2003 Odds and Ends where you will find this:

The recall here has started a new trend of using petitions for all sorts of things.  Take the case of small city here called Inglewood, surrounded by the City of Los Angeles, the little city where the Lakers used to play.  You fly right over it just as you're landing at Los Angeles International. 

This from the Los Angeles Times -


Wal-Mart Stores is seeking to bypass a hostile Inglewood City Council and take its plans for a giant new store directly to voters. 

The world's largest retailer began gathering signatures this week to force a popular vote on a shopping center, planned for a dirt lot next to Hollywood Park, where Wal-Mart wants to build its store. 

Commercial developers have rarely used the initiative process to do an end run around local governments, California planning experts said Friday.  More commonly, they said, initiatives are used by homeowner groups to block unwanted development.  

The Wal-Mart initiative - by a group called the Citizens Committee to Welcome Wal-Mart to Inglewood - calls for building permits for the store to be issued without a public hearing or environmental impact study. 

"The reviewing official shall be required to issue the requested permit or permits without the exercise of any discretion and no development standards, criteria, requirements, procedures, mitigations or exactions shall be imposed," the initiative says. 

A simple majority of voters could approve the measure.  But if it passed, it would require a two-thirds vote to repeal or amend it.


And this is pretty clever on Wal-Mart's part.  No hearings, no studies on the impact to the environment or even on traffic.  Forbidden by popular petition!  Cool.  

Well, it can be argued that one way to get the economy growing again is to drop the stranglehold of restrictions on businesses out there, and free businesses to make money and provide jobs. 

We don't need government out here I guess, just folks gathering signatures on just about everything you can think of.  Consider it California's contribution to democracy, coming your way soon, from the place all the trends start.  We don't need "representative government" because we have direct democracy. 

Robert McAdam, Wal-Mart vice president for state and local government relations, said, "When people feel they're not getting a fair shake with the legislative process, they take things to a vote of the people.  That's what the initiative process is about, having people petition for voter approval.  That's fairly consistent with California tradition."

And the "bypass elected government" trend is our gift, from California to you. 


Well, wonder of wonders, Wal-Mart lost the vote. 

See Voters in L.A.  Suburb Reject Wal-Mart Supercenter
Dan Whitcomb, Reuters, Wed Apr 7, 2004 06:05 PM ET

The basic facts? 


LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Voters in the Los Angeles suburb of Inglewood on Tuesday rejected by a 2-1 margin a ballot measure that would have allowed Wal-Mart to build a sprawling shopping center in the heart of their town. 

In voting down the referendum, residents appeared to have taken their cue from elected officials in working-class Inglewood, who fought bitterly to keep Wal-Mart from building a supercenter there, despite the promise of 1,200 jobs and millions of dollars in sales tax revenue. 

"This was a major victory," said Jerome Horton, a state assemblyman representing Inglewood.  "This was a test site for Wal-Mart.  This would have set a national precedent and developers all over the nation were watching to see whether or not a developer could exempt themselves from complying with local laws.  This was a much bigger issue than just jobs."


Well, this doesn’t cover all you’d see on the locals news shows. 

Yeah, Jesse Jackson and Maxine Waters were leading marches in the street.  But the locals commented on-air, and it wasn’t small business folks talking about the possibility that Wal-Mart would drive them out of business, as one might expect.  And it wasn’t environmentalists griping about the possibility of Wal-Mart getting voter permission to avoid all environmental impact studies and parking studies and traffic-flow studies, or even, if passed, Wal-Mart being exempt from all building and safety codes. 

No, the man-in-the street interviews were mostly about the fact that Wal-Mart is a non-union shop that pays low wages and offers below minimal health benefits.  No one much wants to work for them.  The words “sweat shop” came up quite a bit. 

And today bills were introduced in the state legislature to make Wal-Mart reimburse the state for health services for their employees who had to use services for the indigent – hitting the emergency rooms statewide all the time on California’s dime – because their Wal-Mart health plan doesn’t cover much of anything.  I don’t recall what the other bill was.  But Wal-Mart issued a press release saying the unions obviously got to the lawmakers and probably bribed them or something, and such legislators must hate successful businesses and all that sort of thing. 

Last night I dreamed I saw Joe Hill….  No, not really. 

My conservative friend says what’s wrong with America is we restrict businesses and the key to getting the economy going again is outlawing unions, and making it illegal for any employee, individually or collectively, to oppose or even to comment on how that employee is being treated.  That is, if you don’t like your job, or your pay, or your benefits, or you think you workplace is unsafe… just quit.  Get another job if you’re so damned unhappy. 

Well, that’s one view. 

Class warfare is in the air. 

Wal-Mart blanketed Los Angeles with television spots before the election – full of warm fuzzies about happy employees and wondrously low prices on fine merchandise.  And they lost. 

People are choosing sides. 

And if you want a nice cotton shirt for five dollars made in Sri Lanka by some ten-year-old who works a seventy-hour week for eight cents an hour, well, there is a Wal-Mart over on Crenshaw.  Go for it. 

But people really are choosing sides. 


Rick Brown in Atlanta commented –


First, it's interesting that "the people" supported their elected representatives in some crass, commercial attempt to bypass the process.  Second, it's interesting that a driving force of the vote would be that Wal-Mart is non-union!  Who'da thunk that this would inspire so many of the public! (Then again, maybe I've lost touch, having lived in the deep south for 24 years.)


Union stuff?  The key "Joe Hill" factor here was the four-month-long grocery workers' strike.  Everyone understood that this was only secondarily about wages - it was really about heath benefits.  Our emergency rooms are flooded with the uninsured, and people now see these aren't just scruffy illegal aliens speaking in odd languages, but regular folks who don't have coverage, or very little.  And everyone knows Tenet is trying to sell off twenty-seven hospitals in California - the "charity cases" are bankrupting them (well, so is the fraud and other malfeasance charges that have them shedding executives and trotting off to court every few weeks).  Metropolitan Hospital near me closed its emergency room this week.  Can't survive the costs.  Northridge is closing its adolescent psychiatric unit - no one can pay - all the psychotic kids don't have any coverage much, even the Anglos.


So, folks see unions as the key to keeping whatever meager health benefits they do have now.  And the businesses see Wal-Mart as a model and threat - as these Arkansas folks cover only catastrophic costs and hardly anything else day to day.  Kroger and Safeway and the other grocery conglomerates argue they had to go the same route or go out of business.


Yes, folks who say we should adopt the Canadian model are still called communists.  Or French.  Government funded universal health care is still seen out here as pure evil.  But the businesses are washing their hands of any responsibility.  "Personal Responsibility" is their mantra now.


And the grocery workers' union settled for much less than they wanted - crappy benefits that will be phased out over time.  They're bitter.  That bitterness had a lot to do with this vote.  Folks see Wal-Mart as the wave of the future, and they're punishing them.  They don't like the future they see. 


And the press was not good.  The Los Angeles Times won its major Pulitzers this week for their series on how Wal-Mart operates.  The car critic who won the Pulitzer for his cleverness was a minor thing.


Curiously the Los Angeles Times did publish someone from the other side of the issue a day or two after the vote.  In an opinion piece Jay Nordlinger of the National Review said many things, but his key point is here:


Wal-Mart is gloriously, unashamedly, star-spangledly American. I hope it's not too McCarthyite to suggest that those who despise Wal-Mart are the very ones who may not be so crazy about the United States tout court.


Anyone who hates Wal-Mart hates America?  Yeah, yeah.  The usual.  The citizens of Inglewood hate America.  That must be it.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
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