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2007-09-30
Avellaneda, Argentina. Workers Say Wal-Mart Is A Dirty Word

Last week, Wal-Mart announced that it plans to invest $100 million to expand its operations in Argentina in 2008. This new investment is on top of $150 million that Wal-Mart announced last year as part of its plans to open more than 10 new stores through 2008. Wal-Mart's Chief Executive in Argentina, Ezequiel Gomez Breard, made the announcement during a New York visit by Argentina's President Nestor Kirchner. The day following Wal-Mart's announcement, the retailer's board of directors in Bentonville received a long letter from disgruntled Argentine Wal-Mart workers in the city of Avellaneda. "Dear members of the Wal-Mart Board of Directors," the Avellaneda workers wrote, "The present situation, which has been going on for more than a year in this store, forces us to approach you with words that are not to our taste but are the most appropriate to express what is happening. In this store, the Sam Walton legacy has been completely destroyed. No hint of what is understood as Wal-Mart culture exists in this place any more. If you think you are seeing that culture, it is just a stage set for international visitors. Today, Wal-Mart is a dirty word in the Argentine community. Those responsible for this are the top executives in our country's Wal-Mart headquarters. The reasons workers are unhappy and that push us to look for answers beyond the grievance system the company offers, come from a decision that branded us as "problem associates", isolating us, creating rumors, lies, and pink slips in order not to give an inch to Argentine workers. More than 60% of the Wal-Mart Avellaneda earn wages below the poverty line, while the other 40%, which includes the "non-contract" personnel, makes wages below "la linea de verguenza," the line of basic human dignity. The 23% wage increase ceded under the threat of a strike, as well as the payment for Sunday work forced through an unprecedented strike, barely puts our real wages 30% below our real wages before the devaluation of the peso. This fact is important if we take into consideration that when Wal-Mart sets prices, they take full account of exchange rate movements. For the cost of one second of TV publicity, five Wal-Mart associates could be rescued from the poverty they live in. But instead what is important here at Wal-Mart Argentina is not the quality of life Wal-Mart workers endure; what is important is the corporate image projected to the population at large; that population that when it learned about the lack of job protection and the persecution of union members, organized a public denunciation in front of Wal-Mart headquarters. Another important point is the sales data for the first half of 2007, which greatly surpassed this year's goal and marked a significant improvement over 2006.All of this was accomplished with the same number of workers as 3 years ago, because there have been only replacements of workers who quit or were fired... In April 2007, a day after the protest for the double firing of a worker at the entrance of Wal-Mart Avellaneda, the Labor Relations manager was separated from the company and a new General Director of Human Resources was appointed, who far from following Sam Walton's slogan "we do not resist change", has continued the arrogant posture of not admitting mistakes and justifying decisions that undermine our National Constitution. With these facts in mind, it is important to ask: What is the influence of Wal-Mart workers in society? Are we really working to become "the best place to work"? Not when the most valued attitude is arrogance. Why would anybody correct a disrespectful behavior if they knew about what so many arrogant bosses and managers are doing, or if we recall the most recent actions of the executives at the headquarters of Wal-Mart Argentina: when we made a complaint to them about lack of respect for workers, they tried to act as if they were the only ones who understand and practice the company's policies... The mistreatment, the "mistakes" in the workers' severance payments that bother Human Resources so much when a worker has the audacity to complain about them. Salary discrimination among workers who do the same job... The disclosure of the cause of the firing of workers, which is not written to convince anybody but to create a precedent of impunity and to prevent solidarity among workers through the fear of job loss. In light of these actions, we find very significant the answer the Wal-Mart Ethics Committee, when we told them about the antidemocratic practices of some of their directors in Argentina: "Anti-union discrimination is not a breach of Wal-Mart's ethical principles". This statement, which flouts the principles of our National Constitution, is nonetheless not the biggest affront nor the worst violation of labor rights that Argentine managers impose on Wal-Mart; rather, there is an even greater perversity that in order to reach low prices, punishes associates with planned misery, and pushes them toward forced quits. In one year wages have been quietly reduced in the ADM A2 category, which is where every new employee goes, independently of the department they are hired for, whether selling computers, cutting meat or stocking sodas. This action has affected them in such a way that a new associate has to work 20 more hours to equal the paycheck of a similar worker hired a year earlier. This action resuscitates work practices that have not been seen in Argentina even in the voracious 90's. These are some of the reasons that have been moving the workers' resistance for some time, and that will not disappear with the last fired militant, because they will come back in other forms of protest, deepened by the remembrance of the moral damage caused by the revelation of the injustices that took place in a very short period of time. In our first anniversary as union delegates we find it necessary to communicate these things to you with a transparency and the honesty that persecution has not been able to corrupt. The unfair practices, the cut wages, the firing of workers that Wal-Mart has practiced have not been able to deter us from the commitment we have to defend the dignity of work and of workers in every possible way. Sincerely, The Delegates of Wal-Mart Avellaneda (Stores 2999)."

What you can do: Wal-Mart has been in Argentina since November of 1995 -- the same year that Wal-Mart entered its 50th state of Vermont in the U.S. But if Wal-Mart thought its problems in Vermont were bad, this letter from Wal-Mart union delegates in Argentina suggests ongoing labor unrest that won't end anytime soon. The company now has 16 Argentine stores, and is clearly focusing its investment on store expansion -- not on improving the wages or working conditions of the people who help the company makes its fortune. For more information about the union unrest in Argentina, go to cuerpodelegados@yahoo.com.ar. For a video (in Spanish) of Argentine workers protesting Wal-Mart, contact info@sprawl-busters.com.










 
 
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