Retail workers, their family members, friends, neighbours, and allies in the labour movement held a colourful rally at the Target Canada headquarters. A diversity of workers’ organizations attended in solidarity including UFCW Canada, the Ontario Federation of Labour, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the United Steelworkers, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, and the Workers’ Action Centre. This support is another promising sign of the growing retail workers’ movement in Canada. See stories in the Huffington Post, Toronto Star, and on Mississauga.com.
Despite the fact that HBC sent a letter to Zellers workers asking them not to speak to the media, some workers are exercising their right to freedom of speech and sharing their personal experiences of the Target takeover and Zellers closures. See this story in the Toronto Star. It notes that Walmart acted differently when it took over Woolco stores in 1994. There are likely a number of reasons for the difference in corporate behaviour, including a perception that the Canadian government and people will tolerate such behaviour and the great number of resulting job losses now, but wouldn’t in the mid-1990s. The current Canadian government is clearly comfortable with Zellers’/HBC’s and Target’s decisions, but I believe the Canadian people still think we deserve better.
There is growing evidence of the connections among Walmart’s low prices, low wages, and job losses – in retail and beyond. Walmart is the largest private sector employer in the world, so its actions have wide-reaching effects across industries. This article outlines the impact of Walmart’s model for US workers, as does this Demos study. The pattern is similar in other countries. For example, Canada lost 30 000 jobs in July, with large decreases in both retail and manufacturing. As other large, low-wage retailers move into Canada, things will not improve, unless changes are made. And there are a number of alternative avenues available. As but one example, my colleague at MIT, Zeynep Ton, makes a strong argument about what companies should do, and how treating workers better actually helps the bottom line. Walmart workers and their allies are also playing a leading role in promoting change. Ongoing job losses, poverty wages, and poor conditions cannot be defended – economically or ethically.
Retail associates are joining with their co-workers in food production, processing, and warehousing, and together seeking improvements across Walmart workplaces. Many voices and workplaces, but a united call for change. The workers have submitted a formal ethics complaint, and you can read more about their efforts here.
Lowe’s takeover bid of Canada’s large hardware/home improvement chain, Rona, has implications for thousands of retail workers, particularly those in the stores in Québec, members of TUAC 500 (UFCW). The current government of Québec has said it is not in favour of the takeover due to Rona’s prioritization of Canadian suppliers, and the potential impact on the regional and national economy if the stores were to be acquired by Lowe’s. Read more about the issues in this CBC report.