There is a large and growing movement to pressure Walmart to raise its workers’ wages. This has taken the form of direct action by workers, efforts to pass higher minimum wage or living wage laws, and implicit threats of consumer boycotts if Walmart does not raise wages and benefits.
This drive is encouraging, and often inspiring, as many workers have bravely risked their jobs and their livelihoods to try to get a better deal for themselves and their co-workers. But an important part of the story is missing in the way it usually gets presented.
The standard story is that Walmart workers, left to the mercy of the market, are unable to earn a high enough wage to support themselves and their families. There have been numerous accounts of Walmart workers being forced to turn to food stamps and other forms of government support to make ends meet. It is extremely difficult for a single person to survive on a Walmart wage. There is no way that a typical Walmart worker could support one or two children without help from the government.
In this picture, the government is the helping hand that allows Walmart workers to make ends meet despite the bad cards dealt to them by the market and Walmart’s stingy wage policy. The problem with this story is that the cards were not just dealt out randomly; there was a rigged deck. (more…)