In corporate chain stores and huge corporations, workers get frustrated as a result of several unjust treatments. A good percentage of the employees are forced to be part-time workers since these companies want to pay for as little benefits as possible. Such companies are also temporarily understaffed making many of their employees to work overtime which, in most cases, is not paid. Failure of the employees to complete their tasks directly results into loss of that particular job. This compels the workers to go extra miles even if it means working overtime, with very poor benefits. In these big stores, other injustices like sexual and racial discriminations are also evident.
This research was carried out to investigate the working conditions of employees at Wal-Mart, Toronto and the elements of neoliberalism in specific situations. In this work, I have demonstrated the daily operations of neoliberal logic through critical observations.
This research was carried out at Wal-Mart Dufferin Mall, Toronto. The store is located in the west end on 900 Dufferin Street; down town Toronto, ON M6H 4B1 and the contact number is (416) 532-7656. This store, also known as the Ghetto Mall, is neither huge nor upscale. It has a one story floor which is not fully packed, but with adequately cheap and medium priced commodities.
At this store, I conducted two different interviews with two different employees. In the first interview, the interviewed employee was a female named Sandra while the second one had a male employee called Eric. In these conversations, the main interest was to identify whether the workers were happy with their working conditions, the treatment, and the possible effects of such conditions. I also looked deep into the elements of neoliberalism. The conversation is given hereunder:
For how long have you worked in this company?
This is my ninth year.
Which working conditions do not impress you, or is there any hardship you go through as an employee of this company?
The working hours are constantly fluctuating. We have very heavy workload and at times, we are forced to work on extra time, which is not paid. Our company’s health plan is quite unaffordable, and we are given very little opportunity, if any, for advancements.
Have you experienced any form of gender discrimination at your work place?
Yes, especially when it comes to compensations, job assignments, and promotions. We, the females, earn much less than our male counterparts. The quality of work we offer and the wide range of experience we have is nothing to go by in terms of payments. In fact, we are paid less even when we have more experience and give very quality services compared to the males. Our company has not been treating us, the female employees, in a manner that is socially acceptable. The company does not promote women at all.
Does the company allow you, the workers, to form unions that can champion for your rights?
No; not at all. Our company has actively and constantly violated our legal right of forming unions. A good number of our colleagues have been fired in an attempt to organize the workers into a union. This was after we, the workers, voted for a union.
How does the company accomplish all these?
The Company works tooth and nail to avoid union activities. Through the orientation video on the first day at work, anti-union messages are communicated to all the new employees. This makes everyone believe that unions are not necessary. There is also a systematic method of tracking the employees at Wal-Mart. The company uses the Union Probability Index (UPI) or simply Unaddressed People Issues, as many refers to it, to identify any possible union activity. Just in case all these plans fail, the company
The second interview was conducted as a control for the first interview. The questions were nearly similar and from the response, I confirmed the above response.
When we talk about Neoliberalism, we refer to the market driven approaches in the social and economic policies that influence the efficiencies of corporations, especially the private sector ones (Larner, 2000). It describes the role of private sectors in reshaping the economic and political status of a state. It also describes the cultural, political, and social policies and practices of corporations in shaping the consumer choice, market, and general efficiency (Campbell, 2001).
Wal-Mart is one of the companies that compel individuals to get everything at the cheapest price (Anthony, 2003). This is the main reason why several jobs are sent overseas. For instance, Wal-Mart Corporation highly expanded that the manufacturers were told how much they would be paid for their own products. This has made them send their manufacturing jobs overseas so as to meet the Wal-Mart pricing (Michael, 2005). They believe that there is availability of abundant cheap labor overseas. In return, there has been loss of jobs to several individuals. Several disadvantages come with this cheap labor. In all honesty, this is the main cause of shoddy work. Companies fail to pay their experienced workers appropriately. If the work is not done up to the required standards or if the work takes too long to be completed, complains arise (Michael, 2005).
The low price offered by Wal-Mart has forced their competitors to lower their prices or risk losing their customers (Andy, 2004). This also results in limiting the customer base to a smaller portion that is willing to pay for the high quality. This small portion of customers fall day by day as the manufacturing jobs and technical jobs are sent overseas. If an individual becomes a professional in a technical field, there is a risk of lack of job since all the technical jobs are sent abroad (Arindrajit, 2005). As a result, the individual resorts to open a remodeling business. This in turn lowers the remodeling price for those who have been in the remodeling field for years.
On the other side, financial sense is depicted in the whole issue. The consumer should never worry if the prices continue falling. Current electronic devices like televisions, computers, etc may last only a third or half as long as they used to sometimes back. In such a case, what is the problem if such a gadget costs a third or half of what it used to cost? (Ken & Arindrajit, 2004). There is also no financial sense in spending more on electronic devices with pledged reliability while cheap ones are readily available. Consumers always feel that the extra cost is simply meant for buying the brand logo instead of a better quality product. This, however, comes with various consequences. Since the lifespan of such goods are short, there is the problem of excessive waste. Disposal of some of these wastes is also a very big problem as they degrade the environment. Also, there is a repeated purchase of the replacements which in the long run proves to be very expensive (Ken & Arindrajit, 2004).
Companies like Wal-Mart have directly contributed towards the downfall of numerous retail shops in small towns. Wal-Mart eliminated almost all competitors by their extremely reduced prices. It therefore made the community to fully depend on it and at the same time accelerated unemployment rates. Due to the low quality of the Wal-Mart’s products, the quality of life in the small towns went down and at the same time, the dependency on it rose. Such corporations purely enjoy monopoly since their competitors cannot thrive.
When workers are allowed to form unions, they can collectively bargain and get a salary that is directly proportional to the work they do. Cases of overworking, unpaid extra times, gender discriminations, and other social evils and injustices can also be eliminated. However, if this happens, the profit margin of the company must fall. None of the existing private corporations would wish to minimize their profits and Wal-Mart would not wish to be left behind.
From the broader perspective of neoliberalism, it results in exploitation, and at the same time promotes inequality which is linked to the neo-liberal policies. It increases the corporate power as it changes the government economic policies on large businesses (Campbell, 2001).
It is very disappointing that Wal-Mart Company has resisted the efforts of its employee’s in forming unions. It’s again frustrating that this giant store still discriminates employees on gender basis. Socially, the company is doing more harm than good. The prevailing social injustices confirm this. The extremely low prices offered by this company and its general dominance are disastrous in terms of economic growth. The company enjoys great monopoly which makes almost everybody to depend on it. At the same time due to its dominance, the government is forced to formulate policies which favor such companies. According to the above findings, it’s true to say that neoliberalism promotes exploitation and economic inequality.
Andy Miller, "Wal-Mart Stands Out On Rolls of Peach Care," Atlanta Journal-Constitution, February 27, 2004.
Anthony Bianco and Wendy Zellner, "Is Wal-Mart Too Powerful?" Business Week, October 6, 2003.
Arindrajit Dube, Impact of Wal-Mart Growth on Earnings throughout the Retail Sector in Urban and Rural Counties. UC Berkeley Labor Center, USA, 2005.
Campbell, John L., and Ove K. Pedersen, eds. The Rise of Neoliberalism and Institutional Analysis Princeton University Press, 2001.
Ken Jacobs and Arindrajit Dube, Hidden Costs of Wal-Mart Jobs. UC Berkeley Labor Center, USA, August 2, 2004.
Larner, Wendy. "Neo-liberalism: policy, ideology, governmentality," Studies in political economy 63 (2000). Retrieved http://spe.library.utoronto.ca/index.php/spe/article/view/6724
Michael Hicks, “Does Wal-Mart Cause an Increase in Anti-Poverty Program Expenditures?” Business Week, October 26, 2005.