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Why Do Regular People Vote Against Their Interests? Wal-Mart, for One Thing

August 18, 2006

One question I have heard a lot, comes especially from fellow Whining Liberals, usually taking a condescending and incredulous tone when they marvel at the incredible tendency of a population with a high number of working-class folks and low number of elites to vote for politicians and policies that frankly don’t often enough benefit working-class folks.

“Why do people vote against their best interests?!” —Shrilly McShrilly Shrill, Liberal.

Ignoring, partially, the effects of the media, and the money, on the electoral and/or political system(s), the short answer has seemed to me, (informed only— as I often am —by intuition,) to be that a relatively high number of elites participate in the political process, while a relatively low number of working-class folks do. Because they just don’t give a shit about or are bored by or don’t have time for or think that government has been hopelessly, irreparably corrupted by or would rather watch television than participate in the political process.

Well, I would like to posit something interesting that may or may not have affected this phenomenon in the past; and may or may not have an effect— or have more of an effect —on this tendency in the future: It’s Wal-Mart’s fault.

YOU: What the fuck, Montag?! You’ve gone too far this time! Fucking Wal-Mart?! That’s just outrageous!

ME: Oh. Should I keep going?

YOU: YEAH!

Let’s first take a look at how Wal-Mart profiles the “associates” they hire. For instance, here’s an internal document on dealing with combating unions. It’s old, (from 1991): LABOR RELATIONS AND YOU AT THE WAL-MART DISTRIBUTION CENTER #6022 (.pdf file)

This document includes a list entitled “FIVE UNION FREE CONCEPTS.” An item from that list reads:

  • Unions are like water or electricity – they follow the path of least resistance.

Which I found really interesting, in that that’s exactly the same thing Sun Tzu says about warring armies in The Art of War. (More on this below.)

But that’s not really what I’m driving at… Directly following that bullet item is this bullet item:

  • The secret of staying union free is the internal elimination of problems.

And directly following that last bullet item is another list. This one entitled “TYPES OF ASSOCIATES ATTRACTED TO UNIONS” and it’s hilarious! Take a look starting on page 13 of that .pdf file referenced above. (I’ll wait while you do that…)

Ok so I won’t wait but to you it will seem like I did because you’re reading this at your own pace and if you went and looked at the document like I suggested there would have been a period of time between when you read that last paragraph and this one so to you the reader it would seem as if I waited even though I didn’t though if you didn’t go read the document like I suggested there would not have been a period of time between when you read that last paragraph and this one and so it wouldn’t seem to you like I’d waited at all and I just barreled on typing one giant run-on sentence and you might think you caught me being disingenuous or something but you didn’t really because how do you know if I waited or not you don’t know how long I waited between typing that last paragraph and this one because my present is in the past to you and your present is in the future to me so we are experiencing these words me by writing them you by reading them in different “realities” so to speak so don’t be accusin me of anything.

Anyway, did you go read that stuff like I asked?

Good, let’s continue.

As a mind experiment, let’s put those two completely unrelated [wink!] items together:

  1. “The secret of staying union free is the internal elimination of problems.”
  2. An almost farcically unscientific list of the “types” of problems— er, people— sorry, Associates —attracted to unions.

Hmmm.

Your Montag once applied for a job at Wal-Mart.

I’d just come out of college, and onto the job market during OFFAL‘s Daddy’s recession. I am a Generation X-er. Remember us, the entire generation of feckless slackers who didn’t want to work for a living? Well, I came out of school and onto the job market at exactly the same time that a [certain contractor] puked 170 [experienced professionals in my line of work] out into the— already sparse of opportunity —local job market. Consequently, I spent the first half of my first summer out looking for nonexistent work in [my field.]

There were days spent tweaking the resume, typing cover letters, making follow-up calls, the whole ten yards. I also wrote a novella that would never see the light of day, and several short stories. I read all of my Dad’s Kurt Vonnegut books. I battled the lawn.

The second half of that summer was spent searching for work out of [my field.] I spent a week in the Pizza Delivery Industry. After that I settled into a nice little part-time arrangement in the Retail Book Selling Industry. (Most enjoyable job I ever had. If only there were any money in it.) While I was doing that part-time gig, I petered around for another semester of college before finding [an actual job-type-job] in [my field] just in time for the New Year.

YOU: Uh . . . Montag?

ME: Yes. . .

During that second-tier job search (before I landed the sweet bookstore deal,) I applied for a job at Wal-Mart.

My qualifications at the time: I had four years of experience in retail, I’d done receiving, marking, stocking, customer service, even helped set-up a new store. Plus, one of my former co-workers was at the Wal-Mart and wanted me to come work for her. Plus, the interviewer that interviewed me for the job was a moderately close acquaintance from high school. I thought: SLAM DUNK! — I’M IN!

But I wasn’t.

And here’s where it will have been handy if you read that “TYPES OF ASSOCIATES ATTRACTED TO UNIONS” thingy: I believe I was profiled and rejected based upon similar criteria. After all, I was the very embodiment of THE INDEPENDENT, HAPPY-GO-LUCKY ASSOCIATE. (Generation X, baby! Plus, I was still living at home at the time.) And, even with my newly minted, yet paltry, Associates Degree, I would probably have been considered as THE OVERLY-QUALIFIED ASSOCIATE; (even at the time, I assumed this had something to do with my not getting the job.)

Of course, though these things would not be evident from my application, or my outward demeanor in the interview, I also certainly had some of the traits of THE REBELLIOUS, ANTI-ESTABLISHMENT ASSOCIATE, THE CHRONICALLY DISSATISFIED ASSOCIATE and THE CAUSE-ORIENTED ASSOCIATE; which, admittedly, the high-school-acquaintance may have had some inkling about.

YOU: Montag, that was a very nice, and very long-winded, pointless anecdote. Get to the point already.

ME: Yeah— I think Wal-Mart profiles their applicants in order to weed out certain “types” and to ultimately have loyal, obedient employees.

YOU: And . . . ?

ME: And . . . Wal-Mart is handing out “voter guides” to their employees— employees selected to be loyal and obedient —that smear candidates, and use language that speaks to that aforementioned tendency toward loyalty, like…

We believe it’s wrong for these political candidates to attack Wal-Mart and the transformation underway at our company. We would never suggest to you how to vote, but we have an obligation to tell you when politicians are saying something about your company that isn’t true.

Consider:

  1. Wal-Mart employs thousands of working-folks in each state, and well over a million nationwide.
  2. The last several national elections have seen hotly contested races decided by mere hundreds of votes.
  3. Wal-Mart’s “voter guides” could potentially sway public opinion in a way that goes even beyond their own workforce. The guides could even generate political activism where there was none before, and/or give it direction where there already was.

ME: There, I said it.

You: But Wal-Mart is a huge employer after all… Maybe acting out of corporate preservation is in a Wal-Mart Associate’s best interest.

ME: Feh!

Via AFL-CIO Weblog: Wal-Mart Won’t Pay Workers Well, But Now Tells Them How to Vote

Related: Running against Wal-Mart

And I wasn’t shitting you about Sun Tzu before:

29. Military tactics are like unto water; for water in its natural course runs away from high places and hastens downwards.

30. So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak.

31. Water shapes its course according to the nature of the ground over which it flows; the soldier works out his victory in relation to the foe whom he is facing.

32. Therefore, just as water retains no constant shape, so in warfare there are no constant conditions.

33. He who can modify his tactics in relation to his opponent and thereby succeed in winning, may be called a heaven-born captain.

Is that how the Wal-Mart manager-defender fancies oneself? A “heaven-born captain”? Sounds like THE “BOSS” MANAGER/SUPERVISOR to me. Or perhaps THE REACTIONARY MANAGER/SUPERVISOR. See the list entitled TYPES OF SUPERVISORS WHO CAUSE UNIONIZATION, (starting on page 16,) for more internal problems that may require elimination.

Heheh. I said internal problems that require elimination. Heh.

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