November 30, 2004

Liza Featherstone

Emily White recommends Liza Featherstone's new book The Landmark Battle for Workers' Rights at Wal-Mart, which is about Betty Dukes et. al. suing WM for sex discrimination:

Featherstone's book is a valuable document of a case that will be written about in the national media only if something "happens" with it, when Wal-Mart is happening all the time. Lately, the company has started airing commercials with happy female and black employees sitting in plush armchairs under a soft white light, saying how great it is to work there. The commercials seem to work: Wal-Mart keeps expanding, and more and more people flock toward the entryway from the parking lots (where employees were famously made to gather up carts after punching out on the clock).

Featherstone's book is a voice in the wilderness, a protester standing outside the automatic door shouting, This is an evil place, don't enter it! But the masses enter anyway.

Naomi Aoki reviews the book as well:
Featherstone paints a grim picture through stories of women suing Wal-Mart Stores Inc. for depriving them of pay, promotions, and job assignments because of their sex.

Still being litigated, the class-action Dukes v. Wal-Mart represents more than 1.6 million women. Featherstone builds a compelling case through interviews, legal depositions, and court records. But in the end, it's unsatisfying.

Featherstone repeatedly asserts the suit's potential to change workers' rights not only at Wal-Mart, but throughout retail. Yet she offers little insight into what change would look like. Unlike Wal-Mart, Target Corp. pays women comparable to their male counterparts and promotes women in greater numbers. But ''in many markets," Featherstone writes, ''its wages are as low as Wal-Mart."...

Perhaps the reason her proposition seems unsatisfying is that in the age of Wal-Mart, it just doesn't seem realistic.

Two years ago, Ms. Featherstone had an extremely one-sided but important article in The Nation entitled Wal-Mart Values, which included this bit:
Asked how long it will take to unionize Wal-Mart, Gretchen Adams, who is 56, answers without hesitation: "The rest of my life." But she's determined. As a manager opening a new store in Las Vegas, Adams says, "I was not allowed to hire any experienced help, because they might be union." Now, she deadpans, "I'm trying to get Wal-Mart the help it needs."
You mean WM hires inexperienced workers? How would unionization change that?

Other Featherstone links:

Salon review of recent book
AlterNet Articles
Audio: Featherstone talks to WM Worker
Email Interview about her book "Students Against Sweatshops"

Posted by Kevin on November, 30 2004 at 01:15 PM | TrackBack

Comments & Trackbacks
Scott B. wrote:

Liza needs to go get a real job. She is an ignorant little child that has no idea about the subject she writes on. How can you write about something you never experienced? Living in a comfortable suburban America and rebeling against daddy and becoming a socialist pig does not make you an expert on labor. Just like the other unrealistic socialist wannabes in Big City America preaching to the hard workers of this nation she has NO CLUE. So go back to drinking your 5 dollar cup of coffee and go plan a few moronic protest that no one cares about. While you are doing that the single mom in nowhere-Tennessee will get up and go to work, she has more guts more honor and more respect then 10,000 Liza wannabe socialist in this country.

Go get a real job Liza then work yourself to death in a Union Factory for 50 cents more on the hour then Wal Mart pays then after a couple of years go to Wal Mart and work. Pretend you have no education or skills(should not be hard for you)while doing this so that you know you are not going far in any job. After a couple of years working for industry and a couple of years selling fishing poles to someone come back and tell us where the best place to work?

-- January 14, 2005 02:16 PM

David Livingston wrote:

I read Ms. Featherstone's book. I thought she did a good job but she missed one important point. Wal-Mart tends to hire people that would be be considered umemployable by most other retailers. As we all know, women, along with men, consider women sex objects first and foremost. Those women who are not appealing to the eye tend not to get the best jobs, raises, and promotions, etc. Ms. Featherstone appears to make the assumption that most women who work at Wal-Mart are the same kind of women who work at Neiman Marcus, Marshall Fields, etc. However women who work at Wal-Mart are typically the rejects of those nicer stores.

I don't disagree that Wal-Mart has discriminated against a few women. A company that employs millions like Wal-Mart, there are bound to be a few incidences. Its unavoidable. But probably not any worse than any other low wage employer like McDonalds, Kmart, etc.

-- March 12, 2005 11:57 AM

Steven J. Stevens wrote:

I just watched Ms. Featherstone on a televised debate-CSPAN, 05-07-05- where she and fellow journalist Jonathan Tosini obliterated their competition with educated and well documented facts while the other side squirmed in their seats trying to justify Wal-Mart and their underhanded and unamerican business practices. I want to thank Ms. Featherstone for all of the effort and time she has taken to educate americans about social and economic injustices occuring every day in our nation. I am a 20 yr. union grocery worker who is payed twice the amount Wal-Mart associates make. I own a home, take no government subsidies, pay full taxes, am union shop steward and spend my free time demontrating at my local Wal-Mart to tell people that they are bad for all americans!

-- May 8, 2005 07:30 PM

Roger Hardin wrote:

Wal-Mart's women workers are "rejects" from Neiman Marcus and Marshall Fields? How many Neiman Marcus stores are in the small towns and the exurbs that Wal-Marts are located? Hardly any. There are probably very, very few workers who have applied at both Wal-Mart and Neimans.

I'm getting whiplash trying to follow W-M and its supporters' arguments. On one hand, W-M jobs are outstanding careers with great health care, and we know this because everytime W-M opens a store it gets 12,000 applications for 200 jobs.

On the other hand, W-M jobs are NOT good jobs but that's perfectly acceptable because W-M workers are barely competent rejects with absolutely no skills: people who are endlessly lectured that they are of no worth to anyone and if they were they would obviously be working somewhere better than W-M.

-- May 8, 2005 11:59 PM

Kevin Brancato wrote:


You mean that people who defend WM think for themselves, and don't stick to a PR tagline? Shocking.


Btw, I'll get to your other comment soon; I've been backlogged.

-- May 9, 2005 06:44 AM

Dan B. wrote:

I gotta say, I've heard Ms. Featherstone speak, and I'm kinda torn. On issues which she's up on, ie the sex discrimination suit, she's on point, but she often overestimates her own grasp of the body of criticism against Wal-Mart.
I must add, the reason people can say today that the lawsuit is bull and Wal-Mart doesn't really discriminate against women is because of this and other sex discrimination suits.
Wal-Mart lately has been very proactive in trying to build a friendly image, and part of that image has been burnished by action: like amending company policy to not allow discrimination again gays, and cracking down on discrimination against women in house. Lee Scott himself has said that sometimes the critics are right, and when they are, Wal-Mart works to fix the problem.
A lot of editorialists blast Wal-Mart critics as being selfish and not accomplishing anything, but pretty much every socially responsible thing the company has done has been in response to criticism.

-- May 12, 2005 10:47 AM

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