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Wal-Mart: The Face of Twenty-First-Century Capitalism

Wal-Mart: The Face of Twenty-First-Century Capitalism

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Culled from an April 2004 conference on Wal-Mart at the University of California, Santa Barbara, these essays can be redundant, but they offer stimulating perspectives on the world's largest corporation. The rise of Wal-Mart, declares editor Lichtenstein (Walter Reuther), has been abetted by a "southernized, deunionized, post - New Deal America," a business culture in which labor costs can be squeezed, even as a company promotes loyalty via "faux classlessness." Several chapters place these phenomena in context: describing how Wal-Mart represents both an extension of and a quantum leap from previous retail giants and how it places unprecedented price pressure on its suppliers. Wal-Mart saves consumers money, the contributors argue, but only by externalizing many social and economic costs, including benefits for its workers. One provocative chapter, based on anonymous worker sources, describes a workplace atmosphere of relentless stress and understaffing. Some interesting tidbits: Wal-Mart hit a wall trying to expand in Mexico and never gained traction in Germany, in both cases because of the countries' different socioeconomic structures. A final chapter, by a union organizer, proposes a "Wal-Mart Workers Association" for this infamously antiunion company. The association would gain 13,000 members if only 1% of the Wal-Mart workforce joined. (Jan.) Copyright Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.