Walmart’s Women Can’t ‘Save Money’ or ‘Live Better’ with Wages and Hours Like This

by Sarah Jaffe

ourwalmart_jaffe(June 4) Walmart, the world’s largest retailer (and America’s largest private employer), occupies a rather strange place in the business landscape: a technologically innovative company with a down-home reputation – a low-wage, low-benefit employer that prides itself on a family atmosphere. Walmart masks the lousy working conditions that make its profits with its particular form of market populism: millions of “Walmart moms” can’t be wrong for wanting to “save money, live better”, can they?

But Wednesday, as the company’s shareholders prepare to meet in Bentonville, Arkansas,  a bunch of Walmart moms are aiming at the company’s already-shaky public perception. According to the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (Our Walmart), mothers who work at Walmart stores in more than 20 cities nationwide  are on strike. They’re taking a common media trope and a  key part of the company’s own public image and turning it on its head: Walmart, they say, is not a good place for mothers.

It’s not just the low wages (although a raise wouldn’t hurt):  a new study out this week from the non-partisan think tank Demos  highlights more than just the difference a raise to $25,000 a year would make for Walmart’s workers and others in the retail sector. Amy Traub at Demos looked at the effects of erratic scheduling – specifically on women who hold the majority of low-wage jobs in the sector – and concluded:

The impact of scheduling can be profound: without a stable and predictable work schedule, incomes fluctuate and workers cannot budget effectively.

Continue reading

Women Lose Services, Jobs, and Union Rights

By Mimi Abramovitz

The current effort to dismantle the public sector is the latest round in the rancorous debate about the role of so-called “big government” that has shaped public policy since the mid-1970s. Initially targeted at program users, the attack subsequently took aim at public sector employees and union members. Since most scholars and activists focus on one group or another they miss the whole story and the strategy’s wider impact. Lacking the gender lens needed to bring women into view, they also missed that women comprise the majority in each group. Until the 2012 presidential campaign turned women’s reproductive health services into a hot political item, few seemed aware of this decades- long “war on women.”

Origins: Thirty Years of Neo- Liberalism

Since the onset of the economic crisis in the mid 1970s U.S. leaders have pursued a neoliberal agenda designed to redistribute income upwards and downsize the state. Its contours are familiar: tax cuts, retrenchment, privatization, deregulation, devolution, and weaker social movements. Meanwhile, the Right sought a restoration of family values and a color-blind social order. To win public support for these unpopular ideas their advocates resorted to what Naomi Klein called the “shock doctrine”: the creation and/ or manipulation of crises to impose policies that people would not otherwise support. Discounting data and evoking the shock doctrine, government foes targeted not just programs for the poor but also popular entitlement pro- grams once regarded as the “third rail” of politics. Unlikely to pass Congress intact, their proposals – which fall heavily on women – will set the agenda for months to come. Continue reading

Is the Labor Movement Speaking for Its Female Members?

by Mike Elk

Coalition of Labor Union Women

Karen Nussbaum, the director of the AFL-CIO’s Working America, has a penchant for pointing out that the AFL-CIO is the largest women’s organization in the country. In fact, the AFL-CIO comprises about six million dues-paying women, who represent 45 percent of the organization’s membership. By 2020, women will constitute the majority of union members.

Why, then, did the AFL-CIO refuse to assume a position on the Stupak amendment to the Affordable Health Care for America Act – the health care reform bill negotiated earlier this year – which restricts women from using health insurance plans toward the cost of abortions? As my colleague Roger Bybee chronicled last spring, Michigan AFL-CIO President Mark Gaffner refused to put any pressure on strongly labor-supported Bart Stupak to drop the measure.

For lower-income working women, the ability to pay for an abortion is often a very important issue. Had the issue been banning insurance coverage for colonoscopies, a medical service that affects men directly, the AFL-CIO would have been up in arms.Disproportionate to the high percentage of female members, the executive council of the AFL-CIO is 80 percent male.

Continue reading

Stop Violence Against Women Day: Unions Act Globally and Locally

International Trade Union Confederation
Image via Wikipedia

ITUC

On the occasion of the UN International Day on the Elimination of Violence against Women, the ITUC and affiliates in a range of countries are organizing activities to say “no to violence against women and girls” and to mobilize against the impunity of that violence around the world. These activities are taking place in the context of the UN Secretary-General’s campaign ‘UNiTE to End Violence against Women’ and the Global Unions Campaign ‘Decent Work, Decent Life for Women’.

“Violence against women at work is a serious problem, just as it is in society generally. Trade unions are campaigning on both fronts, to get rid of it in the workplace and in the community,” said ITUC General Secretary Guy Ryder, “Inequality and pervasive discrimination against women and girls are at the core of the problem, providing an environment where violence is tolerated or even encouraged.”

[ Continue reading