In a special co-production with THE NEW YORK TIMES, NOW with Bill Moyers reports on accusations that managers at some Wal-Mart stores often pressured employees to work overtime without pay, saving the company millions in wages. NEW YORK TIMES reporter Steven Greenhouse looks at class-action lawsuits filed in Florida, Texas, and four other states, charging that Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest company, regularly cheated employees out of wages. The segment also examines allegations that company managers used threats and dismissals to unlawfully prevent employees from engaging in union activities.
Also, in the wake of Election 2002, Bill Moyers talks with some unexpected voices. What does it mean for America to have a president with the freedom to do what he wants in the world and the power with which to do it? NOW looks at this question with guests Samantha Power and Simon Schama.
NOW also takes a look at the homefront with guest Lewis Lapham. The latest unemployment figures show that the benefits for 370 thousand out-of-work people expired in September alone. It’s actually worse than the unemployment situation during the recession 10 years ago. What’s in store for working Americans in the new political climate?
And, a Bill Moyers Commentary on the results of Election 2002. You can access the original Web page for this program at the archived NOW with Bill Moyers website.
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Samantha Power was born in Ireland, grew up in America, became a journalist and war correspondent, and is the author of this highly acclaimed book: A PROBLEM FROM HELL: American AND THE AGE OF GENOCIDE, exploring why our country did nothing to stop the genocides of the 20th century. She is the founder of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard.
You may also know him as the writer and narrator of wonderful television films on topics including Western art, Rembrandt, LANDSCAPE AND MEMORY and others. His most current is a 15-part series on the History of Britain. Simon Schama is University Professor of history and art history at Columbia University here in New York.
SIMON SCHAMA: The temptation of imperial euphoria on a empire, such a kind of tonic for everybody. The thing about empires, though and I may be biased, because actually the Schama family’s history is of collapsing empires.
SIMON SCHAMA: So we’ve always seen it, and historians generally feel that when you declare yourselves to be an empire, it’s a kind of declaration to commit suicide. I mean, you attract, it’s a Pandora’s Box of buzzing, whirring hostility. America was born, after all, as an attack on the arrogance of empires.
POWER: We can tell ourselves whatever story we need to tell ourselves to enable what it is that we want to do for our own reasons, usually for reasons that have to do with physical security and economic interests.
They don’t see especially after an election like Tuesday’s election, they don’t see the division in the American society about what our foreign policy should be. They don’t see any humility at home because it’s not projected in the way that our foreign policy is being conducted abroad.
And one of the really deeply troubling aspects I think of the election results is that it confirms for people abroad that the President has support for an imperialistic agenda. That is, that it isn’t contested at home, that all Americans are the same. That we’re all…we’re for it.
SIMON SCHAMA: It depends how much it’s prepared to go into the rebuilding process. The Roman empire, for example, most of those troops were foreigners who were one to Rome by virtue of the fact that they shared in an empire of law above all, law and engineering.
And the thing about us bringing the basket full of democracy to a particular part of the world where we’re most likely to bring it is you can’t eat democracy and above all you can’t pray with democracy. And food and prayers are what much of that world is most interested in.
MOYERS: So are we, too lightly, we in the media, too lightly throwing around this word ’empire?’ I do think of empire in regard to the Roman Empire, the British Empire, the Dutch Empire, France under Napoleon. Are we playing too loosely and lightly with this word?
POWER: I think the experience in Afghanistan and in the former Yugoslavia and other places and probably in post war Iraq if it comes to that is that we want all of the perks of empire with few of the sacrifices.
And I think that’s quite dangerous. So in other words, we’ll go into Afghanistan to try to purge Al-Qaida send them into neighboring countries, certainly get them out of the news and hopefully even nab them.
But we’re not willing to stick around to do the dirty work. And that is the kind of short-term and shortsighted engagement that again, people see as being characteristic of US foreign policy over time.
One of the things I think that’s most interesting about traveling throughout the world is I think that American leaders and decision makers, and indeed even American citizens, believe that the clock starts anew every time somebody new comes into office.
What is so striking about talking to people around the world is the way that they are keeping score throughout the decades. Nobody gets to start over when they come into office; they inherit the crimes of the past — as I think we just saw with the Indonesian reaction to the bombing in Bali.
MOYERS: The historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., wrote his famous book the IMPERIAL PRESIDENCY after the Johnson presidency, of which I was a part. And in fact, it was 1965 while our administration was in power that the CIA helped to overthrow the then government of Indonesia and then helped install Sukarno. I mean, this is not just a George W. Bush phenomenon, is it?
POWER: Well, again, I think each president thinks that he starts anew, that he commits his own sins perhaps but also brings his own virtues, as you indicate, people in Indonesia still remember the past American involvements, people in Africa, you know, when we come to them preaching democracy, they want to know, you know, what our role was in propping up Mobutu.
MOYERS: What is new it seems to me is this new foreign policy statement called the National Security Strategy. Are you familiar with that, both of you? Setting forth the Bush’s team vision for America’s role? It was just published about a month ago, it’s the Bush administration’s vision of America’s role in the world.
Let me just read you and put on the screen one sentence: our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build up in hopes of surpassing or equaling the power of the United States. In other words, our policy will be never to let anybody become as strong as we are.
When, the – Rome’s Vietnam which never stops on the German frontier takes place and very thoughtful people in Rome itself, including the emperor himself, Marcus Aurelius — and remember, Roman emperors always hired the slave to walk behind. His entire job was to say, whisper in his ear, “you are mortal. You are mortal. You are mortal.”
That is the job we desperately need in the White House right now I think — But that German moment was to say how could these sort of scruffy hairy men wearing the skins of unpleasant animals really stand a chance once they’re faced with the full prowess, intelligence and omnipotence of Rome?
But what…what then happened in Roman history was an intensely important dialogue between two definitions of patriotism, one of which looked back to the republic and said, first we must understand what we love about our home, first and foremost.
The same debate took place in 19th century Britain. And the answer is always there is a dreadful ultimately tragic trade off between justice peace and prosperity at home and imperial arrogance abroad. And we’re going to learn that lesson not necessarily in our generation but for sure in our grandchildren’s.
MOYERS: Well, let me show you something that I saw on television on Tuesday night while I was watching the election returns on CNN. These two 15-second commercials I’m about to show you came up right before the first calls on the major races. And I did a double take when I saw them. Take a look.
SIMON SCHAMA: We are Darth Vader! Good grief! Look, the connect between the video gaming world, really, and the world of military hardware and the sense of a cost-free war, the sense of actually a body cost free slaughter is unbelievably scary.
SIMON SCHAMA: We will need, for example, in the upcoming video game in Baghdad, we will need a much more serious sustained army of occupation than has been the case in Afghanistan for all sorts of reasons.
MOYERS: Samantha, Simon uses the word cost free to apply to what it doesn’t cost us to fight a war. But you’ve been on the ground, you’ve spent so much of the last few years writing about what happens to human beings caught up in tragedy and violence. What did you think about those ads?
POWER: Well, I think that they are removed from those people whose lives our decisions affect, and this is one of the skewings that we see in foreign policy, in elections, in American life. We don’t hear from those people. Their votes aren’t counted on a November election day.
But I think this point about the immaculate invasion is a very, very important one. American exceptionalism and indeed the instinct toward American empire is not new, I don’t think. I mean, I think that we’ve always had a sort of presumption of virtue in these shores, perhaps dating back from the founding of this country and who we opposed ourselves to.
What’s new about today is that the checks and the balances are missing. Not only is the legislature not a check because of 9/11, that is you could call it the patriotism problem, a desire to kind of close ranks and the fear of being critical of executive policy…
But there’s also the passport problem. It’s not an internationalist body in the way that it once was two decades ago during the Cold War when you had established Frank Church and some of these senators, Don Fraser on the House side, who really knew the world and who brought the world to their constituencies.
You don’t have that kind of congressional check on executive power. You also don’t have our allies serving as the kind of check that they served during the Cold War when we felt we needed them both as buffer and as partner.
And, technology as you see in those advertisements enables us to fight wars without the kinds of human costs that also might once have served as a check. So it’s very dangerous in that it’s an unadulterated assault.
SIMON SCHAMA: I think smart wars are never quite as smart as you think. I mean, actually we conveniently forget all those helicopter accidents, the wedding party that was assumed to be a kind of Al-Qaida nest.
We still haven’t managed to find either Osama bin Laden or, you know…. It’s absolutely likened to try and hold down something which is a bead of mercury with an enormous great hammer. It simply breaks and scatters and goes somewhere else.
POWER: That’s…I don’t, actually. And that’s why I think again that we bring the arrogance of empire, we bring the…what Timothy Garton Ash called the hyper power status of empire that is our disproportionate military and economic might, never seen I think in the history of the planet in these proportions.
But we don’t bring a preparedness to make sacrifices, to invest in foreign development in education. Even in the civilizing impulse that motivated many empires, we are much more straight about our security interests again and our oil interests kind of trumping in the here and now.
MOYERS: What happened on September 11th, the cheap and inexpensive and deadly attack on the World Trade Center was not the work of an empire; it was the work of terrorists. How does an empire relate to that?
POWER: Well, I think it’s one of the great challenges. All of our diplomatic teaching manuals, all of our military training manuals prior to that point really or the bulk of them were tailored for symmetric threats, symmetric…
And here we have the gravest threat being asymmetrical cultural power of Islam or Islamic radicalism, asymmetric military power where you don’t need to field an army, and asymmetric relationships to self preservation.
If you’re delaying with enemies who don’t share that desire for self preservation, a lot of the frameworks, the sort of presumption of the rational actor that have undergirded all of diplomatic history really as well as most military history, you throw the play book out the window.
SIMON SCHAMA: It first of all needs to understand its enemy. It would help if we had more than three people who read Arabic in the CIA. At the moment when those intercepts were coming in, what were they doing? On holiday somewhere.
What are the empires that have had a chance of prolonging what they know to be their mortal life actually in Britain, for example, is to start to actually be part of the culture that hates you, to actually in a sense put yourself in their mindframe.
The danger about actually the empire of the Big Mac really is that you ultimately think that all people behave in the same way and that therefore they can be…even though they seem to be peculiar in their hatred and their appetite for a mysterious form of salvation over Big Mac-ishness, they will come round to it when there are enough Big Macs to go around.
But guess what? They won’t. So your first obligation when you’re protecting yourself from people who actually can control pieces of your technology but none of your beliefs is to get very smart about the seriousness of those beliefs.
MOYERS: So, last question. What would you…what should we be thinking about, we the American people? What should be happening right now in this kind of world with this kind of super power, unrivaled super power status and a president who can do what he wants to wherever he wants to? What should…what would you like to see us talking about now?
SIMON SCHAMA: I would like to see us talking about an accounting between what we treasure most in our own democracy — in other words, can we actually do this without penalizing both the things that matter to us most at home and our sense of being able to sustain our economy.
But I think really very importantly is actually to ask where the long-term American future lies, whether we really think it’s in our interest to be hated, really, or whether we think that actually we can somehow perform this exercise and not alienate those on whom we will depend for the next generation or the generation after that.
And there’s not a Rwandan that I met, and I mean in cities or in the countryside, who cannot quote that apology, so-called apology, verbatim. And indeed President Clinton visited as part of the sort of African junket for his foundation, and they had to repave the road to his hotel because they didn’t want him to have a rocky road. And they now call that road Clinton Boulevard.
If I could just add to what Simon said, I think that what strikes people most abroad is that there’s this loathsome gap between the values that we get to enjoy at home as Americans, values that are protected or were protected by the courts, a sort of liberal check on the majoritarian impulse that we have at home…
There’s this huge gap between that which is a value laden existence, and our foreign policy, which is explicitly predicated on interests, on our economic interests and our security interests. And those are interests that are defined not in the long term as we’d need to do if we were looking out for our children or our grandchildren, but very much in the short term.
And if we don’t reckon with that gap, if we don’t see that for instance in the 1980s when we write a memo or when somebody in our state department writes a memo that says human rights and chemical weapons aside, comma, our interests run roughly parallel to those of Iraq.
“Human rights and chemical weapons use aside” should not appear in any state department, National Security Council, Defense Department memo hence forth. And when it does and when people see the outcome of that kind of thinking, that you can compartmentalize your values and make policy simply on the basis of a narrow conception of short-term interest, it’s going to come back to haunt you.
MOYERS: we’re looking tonight at what the election this week means for the shape of America to come.
Every election of course produces winners and losers; so does the system itself. There are winners and losers in how the American economy works.
For years, now, our economy, with powerful support from both parties, has created a greater and greater gulf between corporations and the people who work for them. You see that in our next report, co-produced with the NEW YORK TIMES, by reporter Steven Greenhouse and producer Andrea Fleischer.
ANDREA FLEISCHER, NEW YORK TIMES: It’s 6 a.m. and the first shift is arriving at the nation’s largest company, and largest private employer. Throughout the day nearly one million people will clock in and begin work at three thousand Wal-Marts and Sam’s Clubs nationwide.
Part of the vast Wal-Mart network that will ring-up an estimated 220 billion dollars in sales this year. But some employees say profits have been made unfairly, and even illegally at the workers’ expense.
CAROL TAYLOR, REGIONAL MANAGER, WAL-MART, ARKANSAS: Nat. Sound: This is our store number one.
ANDREA FLEISCHER: NEW YORK TIMES reporter Steven Greenhouse has been invited to visit a new and expanded version of the store in Rogers, Arkansas where Wal-mart got its start more than 40 years ago. Our guide is Vice President and Regional Manager Carol Taylor.
CAROL TAYLOR: Okay, we’re going to walk back here to the area behind the scenes.
ANDREA FLEISCHER: Behind the scenes in the “Associates” area – Wal-Mart calls its employees “Associates.”
CAROL TAYLOR: This is our heart right here. It talks about respect for the individual, and that’s what we always go back to.
ANDREA FLEISCHER: The walls are plastered with the guiding principles that helped Sam Walton build, from this one store, the nation’s largest low-cost retailer.
STORE MANAGER: Good Morning associates. Please come over to men’s wear for the morning meeting.
ANDREA FLEISCHER: And just as it has from its humble beginnings, every shift at Wal-Mart begins with the legendary daily store meeting.
STORE MANAGER: Good Morning everybody.
EMPLOYEE GROUP: Good Morning Matt!
STORE MANAGER: Well great day in sales yesterday. It was a fantastic day.
ANDREA FLEISCHER: With its pep rally atmosphere, the meeting brings associates and management together to share sales figures, introduce new products, and offer congratulations for a job well done.
STORE MANAGER: Great job, thank you Debbie.
ANDREA FLEISCHER: It ends with the Wal-Mart cheer.
STORE MANAGER: Who’s number one? (The customer, always)
ANDREA FLEISCHER: But beneath this portrait of goodwill, there’s a less rosy picture. Wal-Mart is fighting legal battles with scores of former employees in 25 states — hourly workers who claim the company has cheated them out of hundreds of millions of dollars in overtime pay.
LIBERTY MORALES, FORMER WAL-MART EMPLOYEE: I would work ten or fifteen hours off the clock.
INTERVIEWER: You wouldn’t get paid.
LIBERTY MORALES: No.
INTERVIEWER: But you’d be working.
LIBERTY MORALES: Yes
ANDREA FLEISCHER: That’s 10 or 15 unpaid hours, per week. Liberty Morales, a mother of three who worked at several Wal-Marts in Texas, says it happened almost like clock work. Just as she was about to reach the 40 hour limit when overtime kicks in, she’d get a call from management asking her to clock out. But she says, she knew she’d have to go back to work.
INTERVIEWER: They literally said clock out, and then go back to work?
LIBERTY MORALES: Well the manager would say, do me a favor, you know, um, just, you know, I’ll try to find somebody to, to work over there and, and then, it would never happen, I would stay there up to four or five hours off the clock and, they would never find anybody there to, to take my place. And I knew that, if I were to leave, I would’ve-I wouldn’t have a job when I got back.
ANDREA FLEISCHER: Morales is among 40 current and former Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club employees we spoke with who say managers often forced or pressured them to work over-time, and through lunches and breaks without pay.
LIBERTY MORALES: It would make me upset, mad. Um, that, I’d worked to-to support my family, and then they would take advantage of, you know, us employees like that.
ANDREA FLEISCHER: Farris Cobb says he felt the same way, working as an overnight supervisor for Wal-Mart’s Sams Club division, at stores in Florida and Texas.
FARRIS COBB, FORMER SAM’S CLUB EMPLOYEE: A lotta times, even though I was supposed to get off, say, like at six o’clock in the morning…I would be there because the managers would make me wait till they got there, at eight.
STEVEN GREENHOUSE: Would they actually order you to work off the clock, or was it something you did that they really didn’t know about?
FARRIS COBB, No, they knew. They all knew. That’s what they would tell me that, um, you have to do this for the company.
RUSSELL LLOYD, ATTORNEY: This corporation is balancing to a certain extent its success, which is great, on the back of its hourly workers.
ANDREA FLEISCHER: Russell Lloyd, a former judge, represents Farris Cobb, Liberty Morales and 19 others in class action lawsuits filed in six states throughout the South.
RUSSELL LLOYD: Each of these individuals has been pencil whipped. A little here, a little there, no claim is more than – worth more than two, three, four thousand dollars.
ANDREA FLEISCHER: But Lloyd calculates that for just one store in Texas with 250 employees, saving one hour of overtime per person per week quickly adds up.
RUSSELL LLOYD: That’s 250 hours a week. That’s a thousand hours a month. In one store. That’s roughly twelve thousand hours a year, he’s getting free labor. Out of that one store, and there’s three hundred and some odd stores in Texas.
ANDREA FLEISCHER: That kind of arithmetic for the state of Texas alone, could mean 30 million dollars in savings in one year.
Off the clock work is strictly prohibited by federal and state law. Cole Peterson, Executive Vice President of Wal-Mart’s People Division says it’s prohibited at Wal-Mart, too.
COLE PETERSON, EXECUTIVE V.P. PEOPLE DIVISION, WAL-MART: We have very clear policies regarding wage and hour guidelines that say that we expect associates to be paid for, ah, all of the time that they work.
ANDREA FLEISCHER: As Carol Taylor pointed out during our tour, those guidelines are clearly posted by each time clock.
CAROL TAYLOR: It says here “we appreciate your dedication, but do not volunteer for off duty time to work.”
ANDREA FLEISCHER: And to drive the point home even further, Taylor introduced us to employees like Loretta Hartgrave, a 26-year veteran of Wal-Mart.
ANDREA FLEISCHER: So have you ever worked off the clock?
LORETTA HARTGRAVE, WAL-MART EMPLOYEE: No, I’ve never worked off the clock and it’s not right for an assistant to ask you to work off the clock because when you walk in, you’re working, you need to be on the time clock, you need to stay on the time clock till you leave.
COLEMAN PETERSON: We know that there can be allegations but we would say like any organization, if there are violations of that policy, then we hold managers accountable to that and we will respond with disciplinary action up to and including termination.
STEVEN GREENHOUSE: How often have managers been disciplined for having people work off the clock?
COLEMAN PETERSON: I’m not sure I can, I can respond to that. Carol, do you have a sense for that?
CAROL TAYLOR: I, I can tell you my experience is that – I can’t tell you exactly in my area but, um, I can tell you that it has been, um, taken care of on any issues that’s, that’s been brought up to us.
ANDREA FLEISCHER: But in fact — three years ago Wal-Mart paid 400 thousand dollars to settle a case alleging off-the-clock work in a store in New Mexico. And less than two years ago, in public reports not disputed by Wal-Mart, the corporation paid around 50 million dollars to settle a class action suit in Colorado.
ROBERT ECKERT, FORMER WAL-MART ASSISTANT MANAGER: Wal-Mart has a strict policy against working off the clock, but there is a lot of working off the clock that goes on.
ANDREA FLEISCHER: Robert Eckert should know, based on his experience as a former Assistant Manager at stores in California. Eckert is not suing Wal-Mart. He and other managers say corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas has a “zero tolerance policy” towards overtime pay. And that policy, they say, along with skimpy budgets and low staffing levels, makes it nearly impossible for managers to run stores without some off-the-clock work.
ROBERT ECKERT: This kind of activity has to be expected based on the pressures and formulas that are being given to the assistant managers. The job they’re being asked to get done with the staffing they have available. Uh, that’s, that’s a lot of pressure, and a lot of opportunity to manipulate the, the system.
JON LEHMAN, FORMER WAL-MART MANAGER: If you miss your payroll two times, three times, you may not have a job. You’ll get demoted.
ANDREA FLEISCHER: Jon Lehman, a former manager who left Wal-mart on good terms after 17 years, says following one simple rule was the key to survival.
JON LEHMAN: Absolutely no overtime. I don’t even want to hear it. If you have overtime, you’re gonna be back in here on Saturday morning and we’re gonna be getting papers out. We’re gonna coach you. We’re gonna write you up. I mean, that’s what it comes down to. Their jobs are on the line if they have overtime.
ANDREA FLEISCHER: And still more startling — even when employees clock in over time hours those hours don’t always show up on their paychecks.
FARRIS COBB: A lotta times they would come in and, uh, just erase your hours.
ANDREA FLEISCHER: Farris Cobb says that sometimes left his two-week paycheck short, four to 800 dollars.
ANDREA FLEISCHER: So you’re saying Sam’s Club managers doctored time cards, fraudulently played around with time cards?
FARRIS COBB: Oh, every day. They-they did that on a constant basis every day.
ANDREA FLEISCHER: Dorothy English agrees, and she worked in the payroll department.
DOROTHY ENGLISH, FORMER WAL-MART EMPLOYEE: Nine times out of 10 they did not get paid for their overtime.
ANDREA FLEISCHER: English says she’s the one who actually altered the time records in the Louisiana Wal-mart where she worked, and she says she did it on orders from management.
DOROTHY ENGLISH: They will adjust those hours in that computer. It’s the system. It’s Wal-Mart’s system that does this. People like me who went in there and did exactly what they told me to do.
ANDREA FLEISCHER: English says she was shortchanged too, and is part of the class action suing Wal-Mart for back pay. Her store managers deny they ever doctored time records. But other managers say it happened in many stores. And Jon Lehman knows first hand.
JON LEHMAN: I had the, the payroll clerk on Saturday morning come in with me at 6:30 and I instructed her, “Hey, if somebody didn’t get their, their lunch, dock ’em for a, you know, for an hour for lunch. If they didn’t get their breaks, dock ’em for a break.” You know, I gave direction to do that and I was following the direction that was given to me.
This is the way that people, that store managers bring their payroll in. And all my friends were doing it, too. All my other store manager buddies in the district.
ROBERT ECKERT: There wasn’t one store that I worked in that this wasn’t a common question, a common issue that came up.
ANDREA FLEISCHER: Wal-mart insists it happens rarely.
COLE PETERSON: That is clearly a violation of Wal-Mart policy as well as wage and hour laws and we can assure that where we have knowledge of that, that it is immediately addressed.
ANDREA FLEISCHER: Some managers we’ve interviewed said that there are huge pressures on them to hold down costs//to somehow cut corners, maybe to get people to work off the clock?
COLE PETERSON: All, all businesses today are challenged with expense control. That is no excuse for violation of wage and hour laws or violations of Wal-Mart policy.
ANDREA FLEISCHER: So where are the government regulators? The Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour division says it has no plans to get involved but is “monitoring the lawsuits against Wal-Mart very carefully.”
WAL-MART’S WAR ON WORKERS VIDEO: It’s a war on the workers, and it’s time we started calling the shots.
ANDREA FLEISCHER: But Wal-Mart isn’t just feeling the heat from lawsuits. It’s also under attack by organized labor, which is trying to unionize store by store.
WAL-MART’S WAR ON WORKERS VIDEO: War on Workers Video: And it’s time we started calling the shots.
ANDREA FLEISCHER: Both sides have a lot at stake. For the United Food and Commercial Worker’s Union, organizing Wal-Marts and Sam’s Clubs is an opportunity to win a foothold at the massive corporation where, thus far, unions have been shut out. For Wal-Mart, staying union free is central to keeping its competitive edge.
ANDREA FLEISCHER: And it’s the message every new associate hears on this Wal-mart video.
WAL-MART VIDEO: Wal-mart, You’ve Picked a Great Place to Work:
SUPERVISOR (IN VIDEO): Here at Wal-Mart we have a great group of associates who take pride in how they work and where they work. They don’t want a union.
JULIE, (IN VIDEO): Why? SUPERVISOR (IN VIDEO): Because they know a union would mess it up.
LORETTA HARTGRAVE: I do not feel like Wal-mart needs a union. We have a very good open door policy. We can talk to our management anytime we want.
ANDREA FLEISCHER: Has Wal-mart ever told you anything about unions, whether they’re good, whether they’re bad?
LORETTA HARTGRAVE: No, they have never told us if it’s good or bad. They leave it up to the people to make our own decisions.
ANDREA FLEISCHER: But that’s not the experience 73-year-old Sidney Smith says he had when he joined fellow butchers at the Jacksonville, Texas Wal-Mart and signed a card to vote the union in.
SIDNEY SMITH, FORMER WAL-MART EMPLOYEE: Everybody in the market that, signed the card was uh, they picked on you. They, they found little faults that they never, ever dreamed of before.
ANDREA FLEISCHER: Then Smith says, on Labor Day, he was called to a meeting with his supervisor, assistant manager, store manager, and, as he puts it, “a representative from Bentonville,” and fired from his 15 thousand dollar a year job — for allegedly stealing a banana.
SIDNEY SMITH: I said, stole a banana? I’ve never stole nothing from you people. Said, well what about that box of bananas that you bought? Didn’t you eat one of them before you paid for them?
I said, yes, sir. But that was just a half a banana, and the other half was in the box.
Well, we gonna have to terminate you anyway, for stealing. And that’s what they, that’s how they got rid of Sidney Smith. Just like that.
They was looking for ways to fire all of us that signed cards. Because they didn’t want no union in that store.
ANDREA FLEISCHER: Why would Wal-Mart fire a 73 year old, just for supporting a union?
COLE PETERSON, EXECUTIVE V.P. PEOPLE DIVISION, WAL-MART: First, you have to know that it’s illegal to fire anyone for supporting a union and in this particular case, ah, that certainly did not happen and those are just simply not the facts of the case.
ANDREA FLEISCHER: Wal-Mart settled that case for seven thousand dollars. If the facts were wrong, (you know), why would Wal-Mart agree to pay this man that amount of money?
COLE PETERSON, EXECUTIVE V.P. PEOPLE DIVISION, WAL-MART: Ah, the termination for, ah, grazing is a, a well understood and well accepted policy within the retail area.
ANDREA FLEISCHER: Jon Lehman, who is now one of several former Wal-Mart managers working for the union, says what happened to Sidney Smith sounds like something right out of the “Managers Tool Box To Remaining Union Free” – a confidential document that Lehman says is given to every Wal-Mart manager with a toll free number direct to corporate headquarters.
JON LEHMAN: And that brought the jet in with the labor relations guys in there And they interview all the managers, they interview the associates.
They start talking about anti-union, “We don’t need a union.” They start showing videos. They start going through personnel files looking for dirt on any associate that is, is a union supporter, so that they can get ’em out legitimately.
ANDREA FLEISCHER: Lehman says, that for Wal-Mart managers, keeping the union out is a matter of survival.
JON LEHMAN: If you get a union in your store – you know, store managers, you’re gonna lose your store. So, your livelihood’s on the line. You know, you’re making a good income, so you’re gonna do whatever you’ve gotta do to keep the union out.
ANDREA FLEISCHER: But there are limits. Federal laws intended to keep union organizing and elections fair. And Leonard Page, who was once the chief enforcer of those laws, says while he was in charge, there were concerns Wal-Mart had crossed the line during unionizing drives in several states. Allegations of illegal spying, threats and dismissals prompted him to consider issuing an unusual national complaint placing the blame on Wal-Mart’s corporate headquarters in Bentonville.
LEONARD PAGE, FORMER GENERAL COUNSEL NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD: There were 5 or 6 different organizing drives at different stores that showed a common pattern of illegal conduct. It appeared to involve, ah, rather high officials of Wal-Mart stationed in Bentonville.
ANDREA FLEISCHER: But before Page, a Clinton appointee, could finish his investigation, the administration changed. The Bush team named a new top lawyer at the National Labor Relations Board who’s taken a different tack. A board spokesman says there’s “An insufficient basis to seek a nationwide order against Wal-Mart.”
But the NLRB has filed 40 separate and specific complaints against Wal-Mart over the last four years, accusing managers in dozens of its stores of using illegal tactics.
ANDREA FLEISCHER: What’s your response to all these complaints brought by the government?
COLE PETERSON, EXECUTIVE V.P. PEOPLE DIVISION, WAL-MART: We want to point out that not one single allegation was substantiated in terms of Wal-Mart having terminated someone for union activities. Some of the others are presently being reviewed by Wal-Mart because we are considering appeal.
ANDREA FLEISCHER: Of the forty complaints brought by the NLRB against Wal-Mart the company settled seven, and in ten others was found guilty of dozens of violations. More than 20 complaints are still pending before the board.
ANDREA FLEISCHER: But for now at least, not a single store in the Wal-mart empire has a union, and it continues to hum on as the nations’ number one company.
MOYERS: Next week on NOW: terrorists buying weapons in America, and it’s all legal.
GERALD NUNZIATO, RETIRED ATF AGENT: We sell anything in this country. It’s very easy to obtain weapons here from gun shows, pawn shops, through newspaper ads.
ANNOUNCER: Some law enforcers want to crack down. So why are they being stopped by the U.S. Government? A special report. ANNOUNCER: Coming up on NPR radio….
LIANE HANSEN: Hi, I’m Liane Hansen. Join me for WEEKEND EDITION SUNDAY from NPR news. Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Chabon discusses his new novel for younger readers, the baseball and mythology inspired SUMMERLAND and analyzing the latest research on marijuana.
Find your local public radio station on our web site, npr.org.
MOYERS: Our report on Wal-Mart is just one example of the way money and power have polarized America. My next guest knows all about the deep contradictions and fault lines in America today, so I’ve asked him to tell us what the victories this week might mean for our lives here at home.
Lewis Lapham speaks the truth to power and wealth in each issue of America’s oldest political journal, HARPER’S Magazine, of which he’s the editor. In the essays he writes and the articles he publishes, he opens the veins on issues like class, power and politics.
You can also watch him at work in his many books including MONEY AND CLASS IN American, and his latest, THEATER OF WAR just published by The New Press. He joins me now.
LEWIS LAPHAM: Thank you, Bill.
MOYERS: Who do you think won on Tuesday night?
LAPHAM: Well, I think the Republicans won and I think the oligarchy won.
MOYERS: You use that word oligarchy. It runs all through your books, your articles, your essays. What do you mean by the term oligarchy?
LAPHAM: It’s the rule of the privileged few. However you define “privileged.” I think that the Congress represents what I would call the frightened rich, the people who think that the democratic experiment has served its purpose, run its course, gone far enough.
And here we are, we will now protect ourselves with…behind gated communities or with such steep differences between incomes that we will be forever safe. And or with an invincible army that will…or an invincible army or a homeland security department that will protect us against death and time.
And so I think that the election that Bush appealed to the country’s weakness and fear, not to its courage and strength, and for the moment, I think that the message of weakness and fear found a sympathetic hearing.
MOYERS: There is a fear over terrorism.
LAPHAM: Yes, there is a fear of terrorism. But we promote it…. I mean, you know, during the last two months of the election, one week George Tenet, with the CIA would come out and say, tomorrow or the next day obliteration, or annihilation looms.
And then nothing would happen. And then 10 days later Buehler or the FBI would come out and say, the terrorists are manning trains and… And if you’ll remember, on the morning, on election morning, on Tuesday morning, the administration, the Pentagon releases the news of a predator drone obliterating an al-Qaeda agent in a car in the desert of east Yemen.
And that photograph appears on page one of the NEW YORK TIMES on election morning, which echoes the Bush theme throughout the last five days when he was campaigning in the Middle West and in Florida.
So the fear is one on which the administration trades. And this serves the purposes of a government that seeks to suppress, hold in check, human liberty. I mean, it’s parallel to the fear of a loss of a job with which the Wal-Mart management keeps the employees in line.
MOYERS: You have uncanny sense from your office in Manhattan to sense and write about people that we saw in the Wal-Mart…
MOYERS: I’ve been reading you for 20 years. How do you think the lives of ordinary folks, the hairdresser in Waco and the car repairman in Marshal, Texas — how do you think ordinary lives are going to be affected by what happened on Tuesday, by the election?
LAPHAM: Well, you find…I just talked…. I just had breakfast this morning with a friend of mine who had come back from a little town in Winder, Georgia, which used to be a small manufacturing town of textiles. Now, of course, all of the textile manufacturing has been exported to Mexico.
MOYERS: And it’s going from Mexico to China…
MOYERS: …I saw just this week.
LAPHAM: And then you see also over the last several years numbers of people who are let go, fired. The CEO departs with a $30 million golden parachute to Florida and 15,000 employees find themselves out of work.
So I think many people in the country will find their comforts much diminished. I also think they will find it harder to have access to healthcare and education for their children.
MOYERS: But this has been happening as you…no matter what party is in power.
LAPHAM: Yeah, right.
MOYERS: The class system is often defended by its advocates as the working of the market, Adam Smith‘s Invisible Hand. But you and I know both know there’s a deeply political component to it, isn’t there?
LAPHAM: Sure. I mean, much of it is based on government subsidy. I mean, the subsidy to the corporations far exceeds the subsidy given to welfare mothers. And it also, it’s the way our politics works, it favors that.
That is why you have so little differentiation between the Republican Party and the Democratic Party, because they both are going to the same sources of money. And they’re both serving the interests of wealth.
MOYERS: I was watching that Wal-Mart piece, I was reminded that at one time Hillary Clinton was on the board of the Wal-Mart corporation, and…if the Democratic Party is not, and the Republican Party is not speaking for the people like that who lost their jobs or lost their pension plans or lost their savings in the recent corporate debacles, who is speaking for them now?
LAPHAM: No organized political force. That was the disappointment of the most recent election. Here was a chance for the democratic party to stand up and say that, to say, look at what it’s become, look what we have learned about our economy, look what we have learned about the selfishness of the corporate interests that…you know, which are represented in the persons of George W. Bush and Chaney and Rumsfeld, and these are who these people are.
And make an objection. That objection was not forthcoming. I mean, you may find it in the occasional speech, but not organized into a political force.
MOYERS: Now the Democrats didn’t speak up, didn’t draw the line. They adopted the Republican position essentially on the economy.
LAPHAM: They adopted the tax cut. Yes.
MOYERS: And then they still lost.
LAPHAM: They still lost because neither did they argue with the Bush administration on the war or with the Bush administration’s new national security strategy.
And so I guess people said, well, if they’re not going to argue, what difference does it make?
I mean, the Democrats then become Republican Light, and the voter says, “I think i’ll have the real thing” because with the Republicans at least you get a passionate intensity and a fierce, often zealous faith in their… What to me is a reactionary ideology, but nevertheless they believe in it with an almost religious fervor whereas the Democrats lack not only ideas but passion.
MOYERS: You grew up privileged. Your father was…is it your father or grandfather, was mayor of San Francisco?
LAPHAM: My grandfather was mayor.
MOYERS: Your grandfather was mayor of San Francisco. And yet you write more radically than anybody I know. I mean, do you have a love hate relationship with the system?
LAPHAM: Yes. It’s…sure. But I mean, it comes out of my sense of being a democrat with a small D. I mean, you could find the same kind of arguments in lots of wonderful American writers, if you read Franklin, if you read Paine, if you read Lincoln, if you read…
MOYERS: Mark Twain. You’re a great Twain buff.
LAPHAM: I am, great…Mark Twain, you find the same argument.
I mean, it’s an argument from the side of people who want to try to make it better, not from the side of people who want to destroy it.
MOYERS: I was intrigued that you said, if I heard you a moment ago, you said you thought that the frightened rich felt that democracy has gone too far.
MOYERS: It’s time to rein it in.
LAPHAM: Right. They’re like gamblers, that you know, when you get ahead, and you’ve got a lot of chips, and you want to put your arms around the chips and now you don’t want to bet anymore, you don’t want to take a chance because you might lose it. And paralysis sets in, and that is when the curve turns down.
That’s when the pirates become mere thieves. And if we’ve reached that point, and I think we might, I think that’s where the Bush administration is coming from. I think they’re thinking about sending the 82nd Airborne Division to return them safely to Connecticut in 1952. And that’s a losing proposition, because that’s on the side of the past and not on the side of the future.
MOYERS: And do you see the future optimistically? More optimistically than you write?
LAPHAM: Well, yes, because the future, you never know. You see, you never know. It’s always got promise.
MOYERS: Lewis Lapham, thanks very much.
MOYERS: Way back in the 1950’s when I first tasted politics and journalism, Republicans briefly controlled the White House and Congress. With the exception of Joseph McCarthy and his vicious ilk, they were a reasonable lot, presided over by that giant war hero, Dwight Eisenhower, who was conservative by temperament and moderate in the use of power.
That brand of Republican is gone. And for the first time in the memory of anyone alive, the entire federal government — the Congress, the Executive, the Judiciary — is united behind a right-wing agenda for which George W. Bush believes he now has a mandate.
That agenda includes the power of the state to force pregnant women to give up control over their own lives.
It includes using the taxing power to transfer wealth from working people to the rich.
It includes giving corporations a free hand to eviscerate the environment and control the regulatory agencies meant to hold them accountable.
And it includes secrecy on a scale you cannot imagine. Above all, it means judges with a political agenda appointed for life. If you liked the Supreme Court that put George W. Bush in the White House, you will swoon over what’s coming.
And if you like God in government, get ready for the Rapture. These folks don’t even mind you referring to the GOP as the party of God. Why else would the new House Majority Leader say that the Almighty is using him to promote ‘a Biblical worldview’ in American politics?
So it is a heady time in Washington — a heady time for piety, profits, and military power, all joined at the hip by ideology and money.
Don’t forget the money. It came pouring into this election, to both parties, from corporate America and others who expect the payback. Republicans outraised Democrats by $184 million dollars. And came up with the big prize — monopoly control of the American government, and the power of the state to turn their ideology into the law of the land. Quite a bargain at any price.
That’s it for this week. You will find more on our topics tonight, and more about the election, on pbs.org.
For NOW, I’m Bill Moyers.
This transcript was entered on June 29, 2015.