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What is a Whirl-Mart?
The action is comprised of a group of anti-shoppers ranging in size from 1 to 50 members. The ritual consists of activists/actors arriving at a Wal-Mart, Toys-R-Us or another chain superstore at 12-noon on the first Saturday or Sunday of the month and proceeding to push empty shopping carts slowly and silently through the aisles. Eventually, all of the participants locate one another and form a single-file chain of anti-shoppers which weaves, wanders, and whirls throughout the store for about an hour. It is a collective reclamation of space that is otherwise only used for buying and selling. It is a symbolic display of the will to resist the capitalist ideology.
'Whirl-Mart' is an experiment that can be approached from several different angles. As a work of art, it examines and blurs the boundaries that have been established between performance art, protest, living sculpture, and direct action. As an action of resistance, it utilizes the power of silence in occupying private consumer-dominated space with a symbolic spectacle. As a ceremony, it is a counter-ritual to shopping that transforms the super-store and its wall-to-wall array of products into a surreal and colorful cathedral. And what the heck-- it's just darned fun!
Whirl-Mart Ritual Resistance International Whirl-Mart HQ World Changing Models, Tools, and Ideas for Building a Bright Green Future Critical Mass Critical Mass is not an organization, it's an unorganized
coincidence. It's a movement ... of bicycles, in the streets. Rev Billy's Church of Stop Shopping Lots of great scripts from/for performance interventions
with a heavy focus on Starbucks. Commerce
Jamming Commerce Jamming source page. AdBusters A global network of those who want to advance the new social
activist movement of the information age. Commercial Alert wants to keep commercial culture within
its proper sphere, and to prevent it from exploiting children and subverting
the higher values of family, community, environmental integrity and
democracy. No Media Kings Jim Munroe's guide to doin' it for yourself Booksense.com Internet book search that sends your order to your nearest
independent bookstore. Starbucks Delocator Search that helps you locate locally owned alternatives to Starbucks
The Independent Media Center is a network of collectively run media
outlets for the creation of radical, accurate, and passionate tellings of the truth Project of the Independent Media Institute, a nonprofit
organization dedicated to strengthening and supporting independent and
alternative journalism. The Electronic Frontier Foundation is the first to identify
threats to our basic rights online and to advocate on behalf of free expression
in the digital age. Declan
McCullagh's Politech Politech is the moderated mailing list of politics and technology.
Topics include privacy, free speech, the role of government and corporations,
antitrust, and more. MediaChannel.org The global network for democratic media.
PLUS the News Dissector's Weblog. CorpWatch.org counters corporate-led globalization through education,
network-building and activism.
Robert Greenwald's new documentary film, "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price," takes you behind the glitz and into the real lives of workers and their families, business owners and their communities, in an extraordinary journey that will challenge the way you think, feel ... and shop.
An internal memo sent to Wal-Mart's board of directors proposes numerous ways to hold down spending on health care and other benefits while seeking to minimize damage to the retailer's reputation. Among the recommendations are hiring more part-time workers and discouraging unhealthy people from working at Wal-Mart.
In the memorandum, M. Susan Chambers, Wal-Mart's executive vice president for benefits, also recommends reducing 401(k) contributions and wooing younger, and presumably healthier, workers by offering education benefits. The memo voices concern that workers with seven years' seniority earn more than workers with one year's seniority, but are no more productive.
To discourage unhealthy job applicants, Ms. Chambers suggests that Wal-Mart arrange for "all jobs to include some physical activity (e.g., all cashiers do some cart-gathering)."
Under fire because less than 45 percent of its workers receive company health insurance, Wal-Mart announced a new plan on Monday that seeks to increase participation by allowing some employees to pay just $11 a month in premiums. Some health experts praised the plan for making coverage more affordable, but others criticized it, noting that full-time Wal-Mart employees, who earn on average around $17,500 a year, could face out-of-pocket expenses of $2,500 a year or more.
Acknowledging that Wal-Mart has image problems, Ms. Chambers wrote: "Wal-Mart's critics can easily exploit some aspects of our benefits offering to make their case; in other words, our critics are correct in some of their observations. Specifically, our coverage is expensive for low-income families, and Wal-Mart has a significant percentage of associates and their children on public assistance."
The memo noted that Wal-Mart workers "are getting sicker than the national population, particularly in obesity-related diseases," including diabetes and coronary artery disease. The memo said Wal-Mart workers tended to overuse emergency rooms and underuse prescriptions and doctor visits, perhaps from previous experience with Medicaid.
The memo noted, "The least healthy, least productive associates are more satisfied with their benefits than other segments and are interested in longer careers with Wal-Mart."
I don't know... to me this seems to suggest they defend their monkeying around to avoid paying for healthcare benefits, and allowing the government to pay for the healthcare, with the assertion that their most loyal long-term employees are old, feeble, sickly, and obese, with a history of mooching off the government anyway.
Wal-Mart-bashing appears to be a national sport these days, with legions of Wal-Mart critics growing faster than the retail empire can build new stores. In particular, the company's labor practices are a lightning rod for criticism. So it's no wonder that the company has struck a rather defensive note regarding a rumored interest in robotic labor.
I got a dose of Wal-Mart's defensive posture first-hand last week when reporting a feature story News.com published today on the future of inventory-checking robots. After an executive at Frontline Robotics informed me that Wal-Mart is eyeing robot technology, I called Wal-Mart for confirmation.
Wal-Mart representative Christi Gallagher, the company's spokeswoman on supply chain and technology issues, took my call. She also happens to be the media point person on labor relations and employment litigation.
As soon as I mentioned robots, Gallagher seemed eager to end the call. "We are not looking into robots in any way, shape or form," she said abruptly. I tried probing for more, but she had nothing further to offer.
The response was curious because, when a public relations person is faced out-of-the-blue with questions on a random topic like robots, he or she would typically pause, jot down some notes, and say something along the lines of, "Gosh, I have no idea about that, but I'll check into it for you."
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said yesterday that it made a "terrible" mistake in approving a recent newspaper advertisement that equated a proposed Arizona zoning ordinance with Nazi book-burning.
The full-page advertisement included a 1933 photo of people throwing books on a pyre at Berlin's Opernplatz. It was run as part of a campaign against a Flagstaff ballot proposal that would restrict Wal-Mart from expanding a local store to include a grocery.
The accompanying text read "Should we let government tell us what we can read? Of course not . . . So why should we allow local government to limit where we shop?" The bottom of the advertisement announced that the ad was "Paid for by Protect Flagstaff's Future-Major Funding by Wal-Mart (Bentonville, AR)."
The ad, which ran May 8 in the Arizona Daily Sun, was "reviewed and approved by Wal-Mart, but we did not know what the photo was from. We obviously should have asked more questions," said Daphne Moore, Wal-Mart's director of community affairs. She said the company will also issue a letter of apology to the Arizona Anti-Defamation League.
The ADL, members of Congress and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union criticized the company for the advertisement.
"It's not the imagery itself. It trivializes the Nazis and what they did. And to try to attach that imagery to a municipal election goes beyond distasteful," said Bill Straus, Arizona regional director for the ADL.
I'd like to know what kind of advertising people came up with that one. It's almost like some weird twisted ironic joke, considering Wal-Mart is a company that endorses censorship.
Lawmakers introduce a bill to make the retailer cover the costs for more of its employees so the state won't have to foot the bill.
HARRISBURG - Pennsylvania, like most states, has rolled out the red carpet for Wal-Mart, offering up millions in tax incentives and grants over the last decade to reel in the retail giant.
In return, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has delivered jobs - 40,000 of them - making it the largest private employer in the state. But critics say the jobs have come with a hidden cost: An unusually high percentage of Wal-Mart workers do not have company-paid health insurance, leaving them to rely on taxpayer-subsidized care.
Nobody knows how much such workers cost Pennsylvania taxpayers, although several Democratic lawmakers claim it could be as much as $30 million a year. The lawmakers, joining a well-financed national campaign led by labor unions, have proposed legislation to get an exact answer.
The bill would require Pennsylvania companies with 20 or more employees to issue annual reports stating how many of them are receiving Medical Assistance. The bill is the first step, sponsors say, toward mandating that large companies pay their fair share of health-care costs.
"Wal-Mart is the most notorious abuser of Medical Assistance programs nationwide based on states that have done studies," said Rep. Mike Veon (D., Beaver), a cosponsor of the bill. "We need to find a way to encourage or require employers to provide affordable health-care insurance."
Wal-Mart defends its health-benefits program. The company, based in Bentonville, Ark., says it covers health care for more than half its employees, and opens a route off state Medicaid rolls.
"It's important to note that Wal-Mart is providing access to health care that people didn't receive before they came to us," spokesman Dan Fogleman said.
Other states already have taken the next legislative step. In April, the Maryland General Assembly approved a bill requiring companies employing more than 10,000 people to spend 8 percent of profits made in the state on health care. Only Wal-Mart qualifies under the bill, which the Republican governor has vowed to veto.
In New Jersey, Assemblyman Louis Greenwald (D., Camden) introduced a bill on Thursday that would require employers with more than 10,000 workers to increase the level of their health-care coverage or pay an additional $2.45 per worker hour into the state's Medicaid program. The target: Wal-Mart, which employs 12,000 people in New Jersey.
"Wal-Mart must stop saddling taxpayers with employees' health-care bills, and take the initiative to provide better health coverage on their own," Greenwald said in a statement.
A 2003 Harvard Business School case study found that Wal-Mart paid an average $3,500 a year for employee health care, while the average for the wholesale/retail sector was $4,800, and $5,600 per worker for all U.S. employers.
The Harvard report offered the example of a worker earning $16,800 after three years with Wal-Mart who did not have health insurance. "She felt that she could not afford to enroll in Wal-Mart's medical plan because that would have subtracted as much as $85 from her biweekly paycheck of $550, so she did without and relied on Medicaid for her son," it said.
Studies conducted recently in 13 states show a high ratio of Wal-Mart employees on Medicaid.
In Tennessee, for instance, almost 25 percent of Wal-Mart's 37,000 employees are covered under the state's Medicaid program, according to a January article in the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Business groups in Pennsylvania and elsewhere oppose the health-care bills, saying they are the first step toward forcing employers to cover such benefits. The proposals include small businesses, which say they can't afford it.
"Instead of looking at how many employees are on Medical Assistance, we should look at reasons why the companies can't afford health insurance," said Kevin Shivers, Pennsylvania state director of the National Federation of Independent Business.
Wal-Mart has faced a slew of lawsuits in recent years over allegations of sex discrimination, illegal hiring of immigrants, and child-labor practices. But it is the health-care issue that has prompted legislation aimed largely at Wal-Mart in as many as 11 states.
A company spokesman said that Wal-Mart did not oppose all disclosure bills - only those that it felt unfairly targeted Wal-Mart.
"They are nothing more than a political attempt by organized labor to make Wal-Mart less competitive in certain states," said Nate Hurst, a Wal-Mart spokesman.
Wal-Mart says 56 percent of its workers are covered through the company's health plan. Premiums start at $40 a month for single workers and $155 for families. The rest are covered by other private and public health plans.
But critics say Wal-Mart's long waiting period to qualify for health coverage (six months for full-time employees and two years for part-timers), coupled with the health program's $1,000 deductible, keeps it out of reach for most working families.
As a result, critics say, families are turning to public aid just as most states and the federal government are seeking to scale back Medicaid.
In Pennsylvania, the legislature must close a $400 million deficit in the budget of the Department of Public Welfare before the fiscal year starts July 1. Hospitals and health-care advocates oppose Gov. Rendell's proposal to reach that goal by limiting benefits and increasing copays for recipients.
Veon, the Beaver County Democrat, would like to see his bill included in the 2005-2006 budget package to be considered by the General Assembly next month. Kate Philips, the governor's spokeswoman, said Rendell supported the spirit of the bill but had not yet taken a position.
"The governor believes that anyone working full time should be able to survive without depending on the state," Philips said.
I agree with Kevin Shivers that we should be looking at why many companies feel they can't afford to provide their employees with adequate health care insurance, I do not believe that Wal-Mart is actually among the companies that truly can't afford to provide more health care coverage than they do.
Today, Wal-Mart is America's largest corporation. Like G.M. in its prime, it has become a widely emulated business icon. But there the resemblance ends.
The average full-time Wal-Mart employee is paid only about $17,000 a year. The company's health care plan covers fewer than half of its workers.
True, not everyone is badly paid. In 1968, the head of General Motors received about $4 million in today's dollars - and that was considered extravagant. But last year Scott Lee Jr., Wal-Mart's chief executive, was paid $17.5 million. That is, every two weeks Mr. Lee was paid about as much as his average employee will earn in a lifetime.
Not that many of them will actually spend a lifetime at Wal-Mart: more than 40 percent of the company's workers leave every year.
I'm not trying either to romanticize the General Motors of yore or to portray Wal-Mart as the root of all evil. GM was , and Wal-Mart is, a product of its time. And there's no easy way to reverse the changes.
What should be clear, however, is that the public safety net F.D.R. and L.B.J. created is more important than ever, now that workers in the world's richest nation can no longer count on the private sector to provide them with economic security.
When they reach 65, most Wal-Mart employees will rely heavily on Social Security - if the privatizers don't kill it. And many Wal-Mart employees already rely on Medicaid to pay for health care, especially for their children.
Indeed, a growing number of working Americans have turned to Medicaid. As the Kaiser Family Foundation points out, that's why children have for the most part have retained health coverage, despite a sharp decline in employer-based health insurance since 2000.
Yet our current political leaders are trying to privatize Social Security and reduce benefits. And they are slashing funds for Medicaid even as they give big tax cuts to people like Mr. Lee.
The attack on the safety net is motivated by ideology, not popular demand. The public isn't taken with the vision of an "ownership society"; it seems to want more, not less, social insurance. According to a poll cited in a recent Business Week article titled "Safety Net Nation," 67 percent of Americans think we should guarantee health care to all citizens; just 27 percent disagree.
The question is whether the public's desire for a stronger safety net will finally be seconded by corporations that haven't yet adopted the Wal-Mart model of minimal benefits and always low wages.
The proprietoress of Very Big Blog has some mild thoughts on Toxic Mart [quoted en toto by permission]:
I hate Walmart.
The thing is I never remember that I hate Walmart until I step
inside one to shop for something thinking I can kill four birds with
It's not that they sell some serious crap. It's not that they get a
lot of crying screaming kids and hillbillies... it's that everytime I
walk in a Walmart I want to jam a jumbo can of creamed corn down every
single persons throat (after I have removed the head with a super size
roll of dental floss and two sccrewdrivers worked up MacGyver-style
into a garrote).
For one, it's that they all scream incessantly at each other on the
intercom. They can't freaking shut up, why even HAVE music (not that
the music is good anyway)? If they aren't demanding they call one
another, they are calling for surveillance over certain departments.
That's nice and secretive eh? Most of the time it's to FOLLOW someone
who bought something in electronics out the front door. Nice to know
how much Walmart trusts it's customers.
Now, you never hear a THING overhead at Target - they use walkie
talkies. They want extra help on the regiters? They send it out on the
talkies. They need someone in toys? Talkies. Everyone on the floor has
one. Some I've seen even have ear pieces plugged in them.
It's seriously a peaceful shopping environment, you lose you self at
Target. It's almost damned therapeutic. Me heart Target so muches. I
think their quiet shopping atmosphere is one reason I blow so much
money there. I don't even get a inkling of time passing, it's very
relaxing to be there. No hassle, no hustle. It's a quiet pristine
shopping bubble of retail joy.
It's very unlike that at Walmart where I find may self making faces
of unease at the voice tersely yelling for Womens to call Ext. 243 for
the third time in five minutes (and increasingly more obviously pissed
each time). Or hear that definitely managerial tone calling for a
certain girl with some barely hidden rage to report to the office. What
did she do I wonder? Take 5 minutes too long on a break? NOT clock out
before being forced to work overtime?
I know I never want to work there I'd end up buying a gun two
departments away and going apeshit at all the speakers within a week.
DEAR WALMART: A CUSTOMER SHOULD NEVER SEE/HEAR THE INNER WORKINGS OF YOUR STORE! DO YOU HEAR ME WALMART!? YOU SELL WALKIE TALKIES! USE THEM!
If it's not the employees on air bickering and bitching making me
cringe, it's the customers who trail you so closely you think you need
to buy some lubricant. If you DARE stop your course to say, look at an
item, you have three people behind you grousing almost silently about
the course diversion. The aisles are narrow so you don't have room to
say stop the cart then walk ahead and look at items, there not room for
the housewife to pass you without you taking a chest dive for the rack.
At the store near my mom's house, the shoes for sizes 9-12 (the most
common shoe sizes right now, BTW) share an aisle with the main
warehouse double doors. I've tagged along with her a couple times now
and I find you literally can't try a pair of shoes on without being
forced to move for a cart filled with boxes coming in or out of those
doors. You can't step back into the aisle to look at shoes at large for
fear of being run down, you have to stand with your hips almost IN a
box of shoes aND crane your neck to shop for shoes. After it became
obvious that there was no room for me to look at shoes as well, I moved
to the just other side of the aisle lurking in between rack os
It took us 40 minutes to find a SINGLE pair of shoes for my mom
since we spent over 3/4's of that time dodging employees. if left alone
this task might have taken ten minutes.
At one point I barked at an employee (who had passed us brusquely
the fifth time) that I was sorry my shopping was interrupting him and
maybe he should see if there was another door instead. Next time I go
in there I'm walking through that door and asking for a manager, and
I'm making him shop for shoes in that aisle and not letting him leave
till he obviously notices how awful the layout it is.
I have to shop there from time to time though as now they are the
ONLY fabric store in town. The Handcock Fabric closed down earlier this
year after losing their lease, and there was a Walmart in town, so why
bother moving? So, now, if I need sewing stuff it's there I must go or
drive three exits away (which I do if it's something other than basic
thread and needles or cheap fabric lookielooing)
I feel hustled, hurried, hastled and generally unwelcome with every single
step I walk in a Walmart. How do all these millions of people stand it?
I would shop at 3am but OUR store isn't open past 11. (And besides
Walmart past 11pm is a scarier place for a different reason.)
In light of a new independent study, the World Wildlife
Fund (WWF), a conservation organization, is urging people to drink tap
water, which is often as good as bottled water, for the benefit of the
environment and their wallets.
"But now it seems as if being germaphobic, even to the point of
OCD-like symptoms, or being diagnosed with OCD, is almost in style and
hip. And I don't think it's because of the tv series Monk, I think the
existence and popularity of the show reflects the widespread openness
about these things. As perhaps does the recent popularity of the film
People like Howard Hughs, or the fictional character of Adrian Monk,
are, of course, extreme examples. But the behaviours and feelings do
seem more popular, more widespread, or at least more & more out in
And this is demonstrated by the popularity of all the 'antibacterial'
products on the market today. From antibacterial hand soap,
antibacterial waterless hand washing lotion, antibacterial everything,
and a plethora of disinfectant products.
There's more than just the basic Lysol products of my childhood.
And I was getting ready to watch a movie, and before I got the dvd
player on, the commercial I saw seemed the very epitome of this target
It was a commercial for the new Dawn with Bleach Alternative, which is
being touted as a breakthrough formula for removing what they called
'Unseen Food Residue', whatever that might be.
Actually, they explain on their web page that though dishes might
'appear to be clean', 'often there is food residue that is still left
on the item'.
Well, damn, and all this time I should've been examining my dishes under a microscope!"
The bankruptcy bill was written by and for credit card companies,
and the industry's political muscle is the reason it seems unstoppable.
But the bill also fits into the broader context of what Jacob Hacker, a
political scientist at Yale, calls 'risk privatization': a steady
erosion of the protection the government provides against personal
misfortune, even as ordinary families face ever-growing economic
The bill would make it much harder for families in distress to
write off their debts and make a fresh start. Instead, many debtors
would find themselves on an endless treadmill of payments.
The credit card companies say this is needed because people
have been abusing the bankruptcy law, borrowing irresponsibly and
walking away from debts. The facts say otherwise.
A vast majority of personal bankruptcies in the United States
are the result of severe misfortune. One recent study found that more
than half of bankruptcies are the result of medical emergencies. The
rest are overwhelmingly the result either of job loss or of divorce.
To the extent that there is significant abuse of the system,
it's concentrated among the wealthy - including corporate executives
found guilty of misleading investors - who can exploit loopholes in the
law to protect their wealth, no matter how ill-gotten.
MISSOULA, Montana (Reuters) - Montana's state legislature
is targeting the big-box megastores that have taken the place of the
old Western general store, weighing a special tax to offset welfare
costs for low-paid employees of the retailers.
A bill up for debate Tuesday calls for taxing retailers like
Wal-Mart (Research), Target (Research) and Costco (Research) for each
store with more than $20 million in sales.
State Sen. Ken Toole, D-Helena, the bill's sponsor, says Montana
residents are tired of subsidizing big-box stores whose low prices --
and high profits -- depend on paying workers low wages.
"When you don't pay workers, they get public assistance," he said. "Guess who pays for that?"
From soft-news couches to financial pages whose reporters grant all but
lap dances to Wall Street darlings, the Wal-Mart CEO has been out to
set the record straight, taking "the offensive," headlines said,
against the gadflies of community activists, unions and, oh yeah,
The part I found most interesting was this:
An AFL-CIO study found that, in Georgia alone, 10,000
children of Wal-Mart employees are on the state's public health rolls;
the next highest: Publix supermarkets with 734.
(I think I read a national figure awhile back, but I can't remember where now.)
In this segment, we get to learn lots of fun facts about
Wal-Mart. Like how they call a 28 hour week "full time." And how the
company has recently launched a huge PR campaign to try to combat the
numerous lawsuits and bad press its been getting lately.
Diesel Sweeties is a
web-comic that I read most days, and one that has virtually nothing to
do with the subject of this blog. However, The Author posted a couple
of photos and some related notes, this week:
I Told You The House Blend Was Over-Roasted
01/18/2005 - 12:38 AM
I was walking around in Downtown No-Ho (even though my presence made it
such that there was at least one ho in town) to get a hot dog and some
rice pudding today when I noticed the most wonderful thing.
Someone had driven their car THROUGH the local Starbucks, setting
the entire storefront ablaze. I know I should not laugh at something
where people could have gotten hurt, but this is STARBUCKS, people.
(The only place which can brew coffee I do not enjoy.)
The company took out more than 100 full-page newspaper ads across the
country, outlining the wages and benefits it pays its employees and the
good the Bentonville-based company says it brings to communities.
"Obviously, it is a defensive reaction to growing community, consumer
and worker concern about the impact of Wal-Mart," Denier said. "The
advertising campaign is designed to cover the reality of their
operations, and they are doing it in a typically Wal-Mart deceptive
Finally too big for their breeches?
Sounds to me like they're on the defensive.