The United States of Wal-Mart by John Dicker (Penguin), 272 pages, $18 paper. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Think of Wal-Mart and the image of a giant black hole sucking all smaller stores into oblivion by the sheer gravitational pull of its size and cheap prices comes to mind.
Now that America's almost fully Wal-Martinized, the monster that Sam Walton built is well on its way to devouring the rest of the world, including China.
Walton, the retailer's deceased patriarch, understood the way to success: undercut the competition, reduce the cost of doing business and always be folksy and smile.
Wal-Mart is a multinational with a living nervous system linking every one of its thousands of stores to its "brain" in Bentonville, Arkansas. Somebody in the Deep South knows every time a pair of underpants is sold in a Toronto Wal-Mart. This information keeps the merchandise on the shelf and the money pouring in.
Dicker does a good job of recounting the many Wal-Mart/union battles waged over the years, including the one in Jonquiere, Quebec. (A new one's brewing in Guelph.) In Jonquiere, the company closed the store rather than deal with a certified union.
For Wal-Mart, the union is an alien bacillus invading the corporate family. Never mind that the chain has a staff turnover rate that approaches 50 per cent a year. Or that an incredible number of its "associates" in the U.S. need public assistance to help them survive. Or that its female employees have launched the biggest class action discrimination case ever.
The sins of Wal-Mart are many, and Dicker enumerates them all. But much of the interesting information could be explored in more depth. Facts and anecdotes appear and disappear, barely leaving an imprint.
If you want to buy this book, I doubt you'll be able to get it at your local Wal-Mart.
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