Retail death star Walmart has just announced that it will be giving raises to all of its low-level hourly workers this year, and setting a minimum wage of $10 an hour next year. Walmart can see which way the wind is blowing.
Walmart, the largest company in America, with a value of $270 billion and sales of half a trillion dollars per year, does not do things to be nice. Its business model, in fact, is to squeeze suppliers and workers for every last cent in order to drive down prices to their lowest possible point and sell huge volumes and drive local small businesses to bankruptcy. They are the very embodiment of ruthlessness in business.
Walmart CEO Doug McMillon wrote that the company decided to give employees raises to $9 an hour this year, and $10 an hour next year, because of corporate conscience: "We're always trying to do the right thing and build a stronger business. We frequently get it right but sometimes we don't. When we don't, we adjust... When we take a step back, it's clear to me that one of our highest priorities must be to invest more in our people this year."
Doug McMillon is lying. It is true that the Walmart corporation and its executives are always trying to build a stronger business, but it is clearly not true that this faceless machine for selling enormous quantities of manufactured good is "always trying to do the right thing." In fact, Walmart is so committed to holding down the wages of its workers—keeping them in poverty—that it consistently fights any attempts of employees to organize, even as the company's owners have grown to become some of the richest people in the world. Dozens and dozens of current and former Walmart employees have explicitly described to us how Walmart is a bad place to work. The Walmart corporation does not do things for its workers in order to help its workers, out of kindness. To the Walmart corporation, workers are tiny gears grinding in a very large global machine.
Walmart is giving raises to its workers for one simple reason: it has to. The company is smart enough to see that the ongoing protest campaign against it by its own poor employees demanding a living wage will not end. It will not end, just like the similar campaign by fast food workers will not end. Not only will the cries of low-paid workers not end; they will be heard. Walmart knows that these demands must, eventually, be met. Because they are eminently reasonable. And more to the point, because America is a nation that is starting to realize in a very public way the the economic inequality that has been choking us for three decades now is unsustainable. The Walmart corporation and its well-paid executives and fabulously wealthy owners understand this simple truth: there are many, many more people who identify with Walmart workers than there are people who identify with the richest family in America.
Walmart is giving its workers raises. It is doing so because it doesn't have a choice. This is a good example of rising public anger accomplishing something. Just a couple of dollars an hour, for now. More, soon.