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