We can stand up to corporate giant
Defend neighborhoods and American jobs by saying no to Wal-Mart
GUEST COLUMNIST
Saturday, April 17, 2004

Most people I know react with dismay to the proposed construction of a Wal-Mart Supercenter on upper Reynolda Road across from the Old Town Shopping Center. They are right to do so.

They are right not to be swayed by the claims of those opposed to even opening a debate on the rezoning that Wal-Mart has requested on grounds that Wal-Mart "brings jobs," and the addition of any new jobs is good for Winston. Let's not forget that Wal-Mart creates mostly low-wage employment. Let's not forget that along with the supercenter will come a host of other ills that may not be worth the addition of new jobs: traffic, sprawl and the destruction of residential neighborhoods (especially in the Reynolda Road corridor where Wal-Mart proposes to build its retail behemoth - just take a look at Hanes Mall Boulevard and University Parkway).

There are many other reasons why we as a community should rally against the retail giant's construction plans.

Those who support the addition of yet another Wal-Mart should think outside the box of immediate job creation. We need leaders with a broader vision, who understand how Winston-Salem is connected to the global economy. These days what is local is global. Sure, when Wal-Mart opens its doors, some new jobs will be created.

Yet as consumers cram the aisles of the new supercenter scooping up low-priced goods made in China, Indonesia and Honduras, Americans will continue to lose more, often higher-paying, manufacturing jobs. Wal-Mart knows no loyalty - it buys cheap. Every time we buy at Wal-Mart, we put another American out of work and help send another job overseas. Wal-Mart's relentless pursuit to offer the lowest prices, in essence, is costing its very consumers their jobs. This drives home the unfortunate reality that we are also complicit in the destruction of our quality of life and the loss of American jobs.

The flip side is, of course, what is global is also local. When Wal-Mart brings to bear its multinational marketing and purchasing power, it also destroys local area businesses and independent retailers that generally pay their workers better. So while we may have a few more retired "greeters" and low-paid stockers, cashiers and janitors, many other businesses in the area will lose out, close and fire workers. To add insult to injury, while local businesses keep resources in the community, Wal-Mart will send profits back to its corporate headquarters in Arkansas and distribute what's left among, mostly wealthy, shareholders.

While Wal-Mart makes much of its local charitable activities (mostly as a marketing ploy), the most charitable thing the retail giant could do for our community would be to desist in contributing to urban sprawl by building another supercenter.

It may seem impossible for us as a community to stand up to the vast corporate power of Wal-Mart, not to mention the seemingly inexorable forces of globalization. Still there is something we can do.

People across America are standing up to take control of their communities and face down the power of globalization when it has a negative effect on their lives and neighborhoods. In Chicago, the city council stalled an initiative to approve construction of the first Wal-Mart within its city limits. Indeed, just last week, after Wal-Mart faced opposition to the construction of a new supercenter in Inglewood, California, it strong-armed the town into a referendum. Citizens cast a vote for a resounding no (much to Wal-Mart's surprise and chagrin).

The citizens of Winston-Salem and the city council must similarly stand up to defend our neighborhoods, our businesses, and our quality of life.