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The Wal-Mart 22

Why did 22 Democrats in Congress vote to give Wal-Mart advanced notice of inspections by the Department of Labor?
 
 
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Last week, I attended the screening of Robert Greenwald's new film, "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price." It is a great piece of investigative work that gives voice to the people and communities Wal-Mart has destroyed. You have to see it (or buy your own copy  here). During the movie, I caught myself thinking: If you want to know why the Democratic Party will continue to be the minority party in the country, look no further than the raft of Democratic operatives and elected representatives who do the bidding of Wal-Mart.

Let's start by looking at what I call the Wal-Mart 22: The 22 Democrats who, on June 24, voted against an amendment to the 2006 fiscal year labor appropriations bill (offered by Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut). This bill barred any spending of money by the Department of Labor to implement the part of the deal the department had made with Wal-Mart calling for advance notice of inspections any time the DOL planned to investigate Wal-Mart. This is the deal that was  recently heavily criticized by the department's inspector general.

That point bears repeating -- the federal government, the people who are supposed to protect citizens from corporate abuse, essentially said to perhaps the most notorious corporate law breaker in recent years, "when we come looking for wrongdoing in your company, we're going to tell you ahead of time."

Anyway, so who were the Wal-Mart 22?  Marion Berry, Ark., Sanford Bishop, Ga.; Dan Boren, Okla.; G. K. Butterfield, N.C.; James Clyburn, S.C.; Bud Cramer, Ala.; Henry Cuellar, Texas; Artur Davis, Ala., Diana DeGette, Colo.; Harold Ford, Tenn.; Charles Gonzalez, Texas; Ron Kind, Wis.; Jim Matheson, Utah; Dennis Moore, Kan.; Mike Ross, Ark.; John Salazar, Colo.; Vic Snyder, Ark.; John Tanner, Tenn.; Mike Thompson, Calif.; Bennie Thompson, Miss., Ed Towns, N.Y.; and Al Wynn, Md.

I note a few things about the Wal-Mart 22. A disturbing number of them were members of the Congressional Black Caucus (Bishop, Butterfield, Clyburn, Davis, Ford, Thompson, Town and Wynn). I know Harold Ford is running for the Senate and needs money. But why should any labor union give him a dime if he's protecting Wal-Mart, a company where not a single worker is a union member because of the company's virulently anti-union behavior?

And then up pop the names of Dennis Moore, Jim Matheson, Vic Snyder, Ed Towns, John Tanner and Henry Cuellar, six of the 15 Democrats who voted for the  Central American Free Trade Agreement. Is there any more evidence needed that these six deserve to be booted from office via a challenge in the Democratic primary or, at least, not receive a dime from organized labor?

Let's tally up some other Democrats who are on the Wal-Mart dole: Matt Miller, a fellow at the Center for American Progress, is doing consulting work for Wal-Mart. Miller considers himself a Democrat and CAP, I believe, fancies itself as a rapid-response operation in opposition to the Republican idea- and-spin machine. Mia Masten, Wal-Mart's East Coast rep, is a former Clinton administration staffer (her post was special assistant to the senior adviser to the president for policy development). One of the Chicago Daley brothers, Michael, was hired by Wal-Mart to lobby for the zoning changes to clear the way for two new stores; as a local observer told me, when Daley's firm is hired, "it is a signal that his position is the one supported by the mayor, a very powerful signal." I could go on, but you get the point.

This is unconscionable, morally and politically. I think we all get the moral part -- I know many people are pretty hip to the way Wal-Mart rampages through our communities (if not, go to walmartwatch.com and get religion). But politically, this is dumb: if the Democratic Party can't be unified in opposition to the number-one economic enemy of the people, to the number-one enemy undermining any hope for a decent standard of living in the future, then, what exactly should people think the Democratic Party stands for? Why exactly should voters believe that Democrats have any more intention to challenge corporate power if the party is feeding at the Wal-Mart trough? And I do believe that, given the choice between Republicans and Republican-lite (the latter includes Democratic supporters of Wal-Mart or so-called "free trade" or both)  people will always vote for the real thing.

Labor has to ratchet up the cost of doing business for anyone cozying up to Wal-Mart. Here are my humble suggestions:

  • The Change To Win federation and the AFL-CIO should jointly send a letter to Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Charles Schumer (head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee) and Rahm Emanuel (head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee) demanding that no work be given to any Democratic operative or consulting firm that shills for Wal-Mart. If the party refuses to turn off the spigot for Wal-Mart shills, then, the two federations should pledge not to send a single dollar to any campaign committee.
  • Both federations should also write to every member of Congress declaring that any Democrat receiving Wal-Mart money can kiss any labor donations or labor support good-bye.
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  • Both federations should, then, send a letter to every alleged Democratic campaign consultant and make it clear: You work for us OR you work for Wal-Mart. You can't do both.

 We all know the political world is oiled by money. So if there's really a commitment to roll back Wal-Mart, it makes no sense to me to reward people who aid Wal-Mart. Stop the money -- and their hearts will follow.

Editor's note: Robert Greenwald serves on the board of the Independent Media Institute, AlterNet's parent organization.

Jonathan Tasini is president of the Economic Future Group and writes his "Working In America" columns for TomPaine.com on an occasional basis. His blog Working Life chronicles the labor movement and other issues affecting American workers.