business news in context, analysis with attitude

Interesting piece in the San Francisco Chronicle by columnist Ken Garcia evaluating Wal-Mart’s political efforts in California, which he rates as “strictly five-and- dime” as it tries to convince communities that a local Supercenter is a good thing.

“Last week,” Garcia writes, “yet another community fought back against Wal-Mart's attempt to put one of its aircraft carrier-sized superstores within its borders. But the company's crushing defeat in Inglewood (Los Angeles County) had an unfamiliar spin. If company officials can't convince an overwhelmingly working- class city in need of jobs and inexpensive goods of the benefits of their store's arrival, how can they persuade other towns that have become increasingly leery of Wal-Mart's looming presence?”

The Inglewood strategy, Garcia suggests, had Wal-Mart spending a million dollars to try and do an end-run around local officials. And the result was a defeat that now will be used by Wal-Mart’s opposition to motivate its troops in other locales.

“The ripples have now reached Sacramento,” Garcia writes. “Two bills circulating in the state Capitol are designed to pressure Wal-Mart into providing better benefits to its employees. One would require the company to reimburse the government for the cost of providing health care to its workers, a slap at Wal-Mart's penchant for using state taxpayers to subsidize its labor costs. Another bill, awaiting its first hearing, would make giant retailers that sell groceries pay for studies on whether they drive local companies out of business.”

Doing battle with Wal-Mart won’t be easy for community leaders and public policy leaders, Garcia writes, but while “they may not have the same war chest as Wal-Mart…their determination can't be discounted.”
KC's View:
We also think that Wal-Mart’s opponents have to avoid thinking that they necessarily have the moral high ground. After all, this really isn’t about morality. It is about public policy. And Wal-Mart is a terrific example of American capitalism…though, as noted above, sometimes democracy and capitalism live in uncomfortable proximity.

The Wal-Mart guys aren’t evil. They’re just unbelievable committed, and very, very good at their jobs.