Paul Jacob

Nothing can ruin an already miserable shopping experience faster than a screaming brat throwing a fit to get his way — right in the middle of your local Wal-Mart.

Much has been written about today’s parents erring on the lax side. But enjoying a difficult enough time parenting my own, I’ll offer only this advice: kids do what works.

If throwing a fit works, you’ll witness a lot of fit-throwing.

Come to think of it, businesses and politicians and political shakedown artists do what works, too. Which brings us back to Wal-Mart. And unions. And politicians.

And more tantrums.

For years now, Wal-Mart has been under constant attack from union-funded groups. The two most active bashers are Wal-Mart Watch, set up by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and Wake Up Wal-Mart, unleashed by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW).

Fittingly, the groups’ logos are America Behind Bars and an Unhappy Face, respectively.

One might surmise their goal is to nag Wal-Mart to death. From press releases to organized protests, their high-pitched complaints ring incessantly in our ears. Wal-Mart Watch even blames the retailer for crimes committed in their stores’ parking lots. A list, including British parking lots, is at their website.

Of course, nagging is their very right. It is the continual use of the unions’ political teeth that should elicit opposition. Throughout the country, Wal-Mart’s union-sponsored harassers have attempted to ply the force of law to block Wal-Mart from opening new stores, from reaching customers (who very much want that choice). They’ve also pressured politicians to micro-manage what Wal-Mart pays in salary and benefits. By law.

Why this multi-million dollar campaign pitting government against Wal-Mart?

The Smiley Face store has been successful. It’s the world’s largest retailer. It’s whipping the pants off unionized stores in the free marketplace. That means it has money, making it a great target for extortion. Legal or political extortion, that is.

Worst of all — for them — the unions have been unable to set Wal-Mart’s workforce to march to their orders. Wal-Mart’s employees remain non-union.

That’s a good thing. Perhaps Wal-Mart (and the millions who work and/or shop there) won’t be subjected to the same fate as American automakers. A fate brought on in large part by the unions barnacled to GM, Ford and Chrysler.

Unions are declining. They represented over 30 percent of the American work force back in the 1950s, but have steadily lost membership. Today, they represent only 12 percent.

Even these stark statistics don’t tell the whole story. For the private sector, unions represent a scant 7 percent of workers. But 36 percent of public sector workers belong to unions. The discrepancy may be the thorny fact that the private sector must actually produce a good or service that someone will voluntarily pay for. And, in the process, turn a profit to boot.

Something the government doesn’t have to do. And something Wal-Mart continues to do, persevering through this plethora of political pricks.

The Good News? Low prices usually beat bombastic brickbats. The Bad News? Wal-Mart has been forced into politics.

The retail giant, founded in 1962 (incorporated in ’69), grew phenomenally throughout the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. But the company didn’t hire a single lobbyist until 1999. In the 1998 cycle, Wal-Mart’s PAC donated a total of $135,000 to federal candidates. Seems they were focused on pleasing customers, not politicians.

Former Arkansas Senator Dale Bumpers explained Wal-Mart’s disinterest in making political donations this way: “They were doing very well without any government assistance, and the government was not interfering with them too much. And I guess they felt it would be money sort of wasted.”

But now the besieged company spends $2.5 million a year on lobbyists; political contributions have jumped a whopping ten-fold.

Same thing happened back in the ’90s when the Clinton Justice Department decided to launch a witch-hunt against Microsoft. Microsoft had been working its business instead of plying politicians with donations. After the government mugging, Microsoft’s political donations soared 9,000 percent.

Still, SEIU and UFCW expended far more in contributions. Together they spent $2.9 million in the 2006 election cycle — more than twice that of Wal-Mart. And 2006 was no exception: both unions are large and longtime donors to Democrats. Of course, unlike Wal-Mart, their business is politics.

Sure, it’d be far better for Americans if our most successful companies could concentrate on pleasing customers, rather than placating politicians. That’s what our country is supposed to be all about.

But the brats want it their way.

Let’s not give in. Let’s not let the spoiled brats win.


Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.