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Chapter Eight Wal-Mart and Freedom © Routledge 2013
Definition of Freedom? Free market = Freedom? Freedom understood by many Americans to be synonymous with collective good Freedom as the absence of coercion? Freedoms always paired with unfreedom Individual vs. collective tension Individual freedom to smoke interferes with collective freedom to breathe healthy air Individual freedom to own assault rifles interferes with collective freedom to feel safe from harm © Routledge 2013
Wal-Mart’s Vision of Freedom and Rights Wal-Mart’s freedom is market-centric Wal-Mart free to: Maximize shareholder profits Hire and manage employees Ban unions Wal-Mart focuses on the freedom of the individual consumer Free to spend the money they save at Wal- Mart on the things that make their lives better BUT… we are not SOLELY consumers. We are also: Workers Citizens Inhabitants of the natural environment © Routledge 2013
Competing visions of Freedom Wal-Mart’s Freedom Pay low wages Outsource labor Slow and discriminatory hiring practices Leverage consolidation power over vendors Pollute the environment Ban unions Mistreat workers Our unfreedom Earn an adequate living Good American jobs; locally made products Ability to move up the ladder Have real “choice” between products Have a clean and safe natural world Collectively organize Enjoy basic human rights © Routledge 2013
Normalizing Wal-Mart’s Freedom Keep “inconvenient truths” hidden Internalized Wal-Mart’s definition: Not an accident Wal-Mart works to make this happen Dissolution of class boundaries through shopping and working at Wal-Mart Becoming “entrepreneurs of ourselves” Ascribing this to our own free will © Routledge 2013
Masking contradictions As these contradictions grew, Wal-Mart succeeded by using high efficiency logistics and exploiting a low wage workforce to manufacture a miniaturized version of the American Dream This version empowered vulnerable individuals to navigate an increasingly unequal and hostile socioeconomic terrain and fostered real experiences of belonging, saving, and self- improvement. It also promoted a plausible and contradiction-free worldview Wal-Mart deployed an effective anti-union strategy, and developed a sophisticated PR apparatus to deflect organized opposition or critique © Routledge 2013
Reimagining Freedom A “job” or a living wage? Fashioning truly sustainable and alternative versions of the dream Turning one Dream into multiple dreams Rebuild the Dream Movement Fights for public investment in poor and minority communities Overcome historical injustices Freedom as collective well-being. Recognize the: Fundamentally shared nature of our existence Collective production of society Interdependence of individual and collective © Routledge 2013
Making Other Dreams Possible Alternative perspectives allow us to: Imagine the possibilities of collective action through which we could wrestle control from powerful corporations and undemocratic political systems Put other dreams of freedom into motion Forge alliances between groups that have been separated by neoliberal economies Organize around our various oppositions to Wal-Mart and other multinationals: The Occupy movement Respect DC and other Community Benefit Agreement groups © Routledge 2013
Making Other Dreams Possible (Cont’d) Wal-Mart and multinational industry not inevitable “Harm industries” Global capital literally “banks on” the continued separation of oppressed groups Wal-Mart’s affective inclusion partially makes up for the unmet demands of some of their critics © Routledge 2013
Alternative visions of freedom require reconfigured regulatory frameworks— new cultural rules by which we organize economic and political life: how we exploit the natural environment to meet human needs for survival; how we assign property rights, mobilize labor, organize exchange, and distribute surplus; and how we organize ourselves into groups and make political decisions; in short, how we best govern ourselves. The possibilities for reconfiguration are almost limitless, and anti-Wal-Mart movements provide numerous ideas of places to start. © Routledge 2013
Chapter One Wal-Mart’s Cultural Politics © Routledge 2013.
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