Soapbox: Wrangling over Wal-Mart
December 2005 - January 2006
December 1, 2005

Readers responded in large numbers to October-November's centerstage article, "Justice and Witness Ministries endorses Wal-Mart Week of Action" and the editor's related column, "Global 'Wal-Martization' is sign, symbol of poverty-trending economy." Here's just a small sample of your comments:

Too urban, too late

Rural communities have been negatively affected by Wal-Mart's policies for decades, with nary a peep from UCC leadership. But apparently, this issue has now come to the attention of the national church when Wal-Mart moved into urban communities like Cleveland and Chicago. In the decades it took for the national church to become aware of Wal-Mart's policies, many rural communities have sacrificed their downtowns to Wal-Mart's undercutting of local businesses.

I suppose I should be glad that the UCC is concerned about the cost of Wal-Mart to communities, but much of the damage has been done and, for many rural communities, it's too late to undo it.

The UCC's reticence to speak out about corporate agriculture and other problems (because we love our cheap meat!) is disappointing at best. I pray for the day when UCC leaders will be as concerned for the people of Eagle Grove, Iowa, as it is for Chicago or Cleveland.

The Rev. Lisa A. Hadler
Ottawa, Ill.

'Wal-Mart deserves praise'

While I am no fan of corporate greed, I was a bit disappointed with the "party line" as I understood it towards Wal-Mart. Is it fair to compare a discount retailer to General Motors, a manufacturer? The problems with our economy run a lot deeper than your article suggests.

Furthermore, I think Wal-Mart deserves praise for its actions during the early days of the crisis in New Orleans. Wal- Mart trucks were on the scene days before the federal government or the non-profits. They alleviated a lot of suffering and potentially even saved lives (I am thinking of the diabetics who needed ice for their insulin.)

I hope the picture of Wal-Mart presented during "Wal-Mart Week of Action" will be more balanced.

Jean Graves
Phillipus UCC
Cincinnati, Ohio

Seekonk, Take 1: 'I'll raise the issue'

Thanks so much for the great article on Wal-Mart and the constructive approach to working for change. I am co-chair of our church's mission and social action committee. At our next meeting I will raise the issue of hosting a screening of "The Wal-Mart Movie." Great work!

Bonnie DeBlois
Seekonk (Mass.) Congregational UCC

Seekonk, Take 2: 'Scrap the bashing'

You should have heeded that moment of indecision and scrapped the Wal-Mart bashing article and editorial comment. Why not be thankful that Wal-Mart donated $17 million to the Katrina relief? The fact that the CEO of Wal-Mart makes that much money is irrelevant. There are hundreds of CEOs who make that much, plus.

Wal-Mart provides jobs for mostly unskilled labor. Granted, they are not the best paying jobs, but it is better than no job at all. No one is forced to work there or shop there, but obviously thousands do both.

Please spend your time, space and money promoting the UCC, not demeaning the largest corporation in the world.

Michael Dunn
Seekonk (Mass.) Congregational UCC

UCC's actions 'timely, appropriate'

Our actions to confront the repressive labor tactics and policies of the Wal-Mart corporation are both timely and appropriate. I hope that the Wal-Mart management has been paying attention to our actions against Taco Bell. Admittedly, Wal-Mart is a much larger — indeed the largest — target that we could choose.

I am pleased that our Justice and Witness Ministries has taken a position in this matter. The broader implications of the Wal-Mart policies are that other businesses, whether large or small, will take comfort (and perhaps refuge) in following the Wal-Mart example. Should we wait any longer, the problem will only become more deeply entrenched, and thus harder to reverse. It is also tactically smarter to engage the larger entity, for when we succeed in this matter, the lesser followers will come along.

Roger Dart
Member, Congregational UCC
Deerfield, Ill.

Go after 'big companies'

As a UCC member, I am sorry to see you attacking Wal-Mart. We live in a rural community and have a Wal-Mart near us. As I read the article in United Church News, I got the feeling you are being promoters and frontmen for unions. Yes, at one time unions played an important place for workers, but they have now become so powerful, they are driving companies to say "the heck with it" and either fold up or move to third-world countries. The area we live in is a good example of the many industries that have disappeared and the demands of unions have played a part in that.

As far as the communities Wal-Mart moves into, it does employ many times over what was offered in the areas before, plus shopping at lower prices. Those employees and their families are also able to shop with a discount. Actually, it provides employment for those untrained individuals that otherwise may not have a job opportunity. Wal-Mart also contributes greatly to the tax base of these communities. What the political leaders in those communities do with that is another story, as is evidently a big part of the problem in the New Orleans area.

If the UCC wants to go after big companies, they should focus on the oil companies, pharmaceuticals, insurance companies and clout that unions have on Congress and the economy of our country. These powers have a lot to do with the management of companies and their bottom lines. There is a pecking order here and I think you should begin at the top. I'm not saying I know the answers to poverty in our country or that Wal-Mart is perfect. There are many parts of what makes up the mess our country is in. I really don't think attacking a successful company is where you should begin.

Janet Brangenberg
Fieldon (Ill.) UCC

'Not one company's fault'

My wife has worked for Wal-Mart for 20 years. She has been a department manager, co-manager, and is currently an assistant manager. Your article is unfair to the many hard working people that continue to work with pride at Wal-Mart.

It is easy to attack and blame a particular corporation, but to say a "union" is the only answer hardly represents balanced logic. It has been documented that unions have kept small businesses from working their way into the world. Unions still do things the way they did in the early days, through strikes and intimidation. If you are not with them, you are an enemy to be conquered, especially if you are represent potentially large income to the union enterprise.

It is one thing to champion the fight for fair treatment of all people, but it is dirty politics to accuse, try, convict and sentence a single company. Why not go after the oil companies' profi ts? What about Sears and K-Mart? No, it is not any one company's fault. It is just easy to pick on whoever is the easy target at the moment.

Robert A. Callaway
Hutchinson, Kan. 

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Rev. J. Bennett Guess
Executive Minister, Local Church Ministries
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland,Ohio 44115
216-736-3801
guessb@ucc.org