The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Wal-Mart case:
An injury to all

Jul 5, 2004

A federal district judge in San Francisco granted class-action status to a lawsuit by women Wal-Mart employees. Six women began the lawsuit in 2001. The judge's decision, if upheld, adds about 1.6 million women to the complaint. The women are suing for compensation because of Wal-Mart's sex discrimination in wages and promotions.

Wal-Mart's abuse of labor is legendary. The U.S. poverty level for a family of 3 is $14,630 a year; the average yearly salary of a Wal-Mart "associate" is $13,861. Moreover, concealed within this astonishingly low average, court filings reveal that women hourly "associates" earn about $1,100 less per year than men. And Wal-Mart employs 65% women!

Any court of justice would order restitution, immediately, on the face of it. But in this court system, it still may be years, if ever, before Wal-Mart has to pay anything at all.

And even if Wal-Mart is eventually compelled to pay up and to change its practices, what would such a court order mean? Simply that all workers will have equal opportunity – to work full time for poverty wages!

It's always the practice of employers to divide workers by paying different wages to different groups. Once a lower wage is established for one group – at Wal-Mart, the women workers – that wage becomes a millstone on the necks of all other workers as well. Even the highest wage is defined by its distance from the lowest.

Of course it is in every Wal-Mart worker's interest to see that those in the lowest-paid ranks are brought up to a higher level and as soon as possible.

Beyond that, it is in the interest of every worker to make working full-time for poverty wages a horror of the past, instead of the millstone around our collective necks that it is today. And that won't be done by court order, but by a mobilization of the workers.