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Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland

Wal-Mart to Save
the Day for the US

By Mariusz Zawadzki

The situation for U.S. war veterans is dire. ...While the country's unemployment rate works out at 8 percent, the figures are as much as 4 percent higher among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.

Translated By Maciej Lepka

19 January 2013

Edited by Lau­rence Bouvard

Poland - Gazeta Wyborcza - Original Article (Polish)

The supermarket chain Wal-Mart has promised to employ any war veteran who will submit an application. A noble initiative or a mirage, similar to Obama's fairy tales about millions of new workplaces in the U.S.? Whoever has watched the cult movie "Rambo” is fully aware of the possible consequences of disregarding veterans coming back from war.

If the main character, played by Sylvester Stallone, were not derided and persecuted by the sheriff but offered a job at Wal-Mart instead, tens of policemen and soldiers would be saved, not to mention the top-dollar military equipment that had been destroyed by Rambo before his former commander from Vietnam persuaded him to give himself up to the police.

Even those who perceive Rambo as another piece of Hollywood rubbish and complete nonsense have to admit that the movie carries some objective truth, even if it is a little exaggerated. The message is clear: the situation for U.S. war veterans is dire. Especially now, when the American economy is still influenced by the crisis from a few years ago. While the country's unemployment rate works out at eight percent, the figures are as much as four percent higher among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.

That is why the offer issued last Wednesday appears to be noble and beneficial: Every veteran who applies for work at Wal-Mart within a year of his retirement from the Army will be given a job, provided that he has not been dismissed for disciplinary reasons. “Let’s be clear: Hiring a veteran can be one of the best decisions any of us can make. Veterans have a record of performance under pressure. They’re quick learners, and they’re team players,” said William Simon, president of Wal-Mart, the biggest chain of supermarkets, as well as the largest employer in the U.S., with 1.4 million people on its payroll.

It is estimated that about 100,000 veterans will join Wal-Mart's ranks in the next five years. First Lady Michelle Obama, who also actively supports veterans, hailed Wal-Mart's plans as "ground-breaking." “We all believe that no one who serves our country should have to fight for a job once they return home,” declared the First Lady. “Wal-Mart is setting a groundbreaking example for the private sector to follow.”

On the other hand, voices are heard that Wal-Mart only cares about improving its image, as the company has been accused of paying starvation wages and discriminating against women, who are not given the chance of promotion for years. Part-time female cashiers frequently earn only $9 per hour, and, despite having a job, their standard of living is regarded as poverty level by the federal government. An average cashier’s salary, $12.50 per hour, is only slightly higher.

Wal-Mart found itself in particularly hot water a few weeks ago, when, due to lack of fire protection, over 100 people died in a fire in the company's clothing factory in Bangladesh.

As if that was not enough, large supermarkets located in small cities drove thousands of local stores and family businesses that used to be the driving force of the economy out of business. If one considers that the welfare of small entrepreneurs is one of the backbones on which the country was built, it would seem that Wal-Mart is even anti-American.

“They like military people because they have a sense of hierarchy and a commitment to the organization they are in,” says historian Nelson Lichtenstein of the University of California, Santa Barbara, deliberately twisting Simon's words. In other words, the military are used to doing what they are told without any questions and protests.

The harshest critics say that, all things considered, Bill Simon's promise is completely worthless to the veterans, and the seemingly generous offer is nothing more than a smart PR action. Experts from Time monthly magazine and "The Atlantic” web portal remind us that Wal-Mart is characterized by a significant workforce flow — every year, 37 percent of employees quit, and new faces take their places. Every year, a half million people are hired by the company, which means that Wal-Mart will take on (and fire) two and a half million people over the next five years. Therefore, 100,000 veterans will constitute merely 4 percent of new Wal-Mart's employees. The figure looks really low, especially when we take into consideration that former soldiers make for as much as 9 percent of the American workforce. It might be said that Mr. Simon has promised veterans that they would be taken on two times less than by other employers!

The blissful picture painted before former soldiers bears a resemblance to the optimistic decreasing unemployment statistics, which were widely promoted by Obama in last year's presidential campaign. Although new vacancies do arise, the majority of them are usually dead-end jobs, a cashier at Wal-Mart being just one example.

According to the National Employment Law Project, 7 million Americans have lost their jobs since the beginning of the crisis in 2007. Twenty one percent of them were underpaid, earning less than $13.83 per hour. Shockingly, 58 percent of new employees earn less than that!

On the other hand, as many as 60 percent of Americans who joined the ranks of the jobless during the crisis earned from $13.83 to $21.13 per hour. Today only 22 percent of the newly employed are paid in this range!

To conclude, 7 million average workplaces have been transformed into 3.3 million workplaces of abysmal quality — this is supposed to be the revival of the American economy in full swing. In addition, major corporations are announcing record revenues on a daily basis, and 400 of the richest Americans boast more money and property than 180 million American citizens (60 percent of the poorest). It just goes to show that President Obama has got a lot on his plate in his second term as head of state.



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