Missing the Target
Will Baude, discussing opposition to Wal-mart, says:
In other words, these unnamed critics ask why Wal-Mart cannot spend 65% of its profits on paying its workers above-market wages. I mean, I suppose Wal-Mart could decide to spend its profits that way (corporate law problems notwithstanding) but that seems like rather extraordinary philanthropy. And even if Wal-Mart were interested in spending most of its profits that way, I think there would be more beneficent ways to spend that 6.5 billion dollars, like paying them to people who don't already have not-awful jobs.
I think that last sentence is wrong, in that jobs at Wal-Mart are awful, paying $6.50 an hour with essentially no benefits for backbreaking work*, but it's not Mr. Baude to which my title refers.
What's with these critics? I'm pretty staunchly pro-labor, and yet I don't understand all the things I see about "unnamed critics" criticizing the labor practices of companies like Wal-Mart and Starbucks.
Will's quite right that Wal-Mart probably can't paternalistically allocate a big chunk of shareholder profits to employee wages. Is it really the strategy of pro-labor folks to try to appeal to the generosity of big corporations? That's like peace activists trying to stop war by appealing to the Army Chief of Staff; he has a duty, and it's to exert military force. What ever happened to leverage?
Workers at Wal-Mart will get better wages when they demand them and back them up with the kind of economic weapons authorized by the National Labor Relations Act. If Wal-Mart engages in illegal and unfair labor practices to resist that, then fair wage advocates will have a much better weapon to use against them than an attempt to publicly shame them.
Likewise, to the guy handing out boycott fliers outside Starbucks until management accedes to a Barista union: the Baristas have to want to unionize for that to work. Starbucks customers can impose their desired labor-relations scheme on Starbucks through a boycott, if they really have the muscle to do that. It would be far easier (which is not to say easy) to organize employees.
You'll get no argument from me (although I suspect you would from Mr. Baude) that U.S. labor laws are too weak and make it too hard to unionize. If that's your beef, then save your shaming campaign for the people who should be ashamed of the way that our law protects big companies over their employees: the people who write the laws.
*I highly recommend Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America for a perspective on working at Wal-Mart.