Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Wal-Mart Stampede

(below) Cell-phone video shows emergency workers trying to aid a store employee who was trampled by a mob of Black Friday bargain-hunters after opening the doors of a Long Island Wal Mart. The man, identified as Jdimytai Damour (right), 34, of Queens, was later pronounced dead. (WCBS)


Condolences to the family of Jdimytai Damour. It is very sad that he was trampled while trying to make a living as a worker at a Wal-Mart store.

Now, what can we learn from this? And, who is to blame?If we were to turn to philosophers or folk musicians, we might get the proper answer. An artist like Woody Guthrie might be inclined to point out that the situation was more of the usual games between the rich and the poor. The rich Wal Mart owners set the stage for the working class bargain hunters to trample the working class temporary worker. And, now, some in the corporate media are willing to side with the corporation, of course.

I am horrified to see some mainstream news coverage vilify the shoppers who went through the doors. And, an AP headline that threatens to hunt the shoppers down. The AP/Yahoo News headline is: "Sought: Wal-Mart shoppers who trampled NY worker". And, it states:

Police were reviewing video from surveillance cameras in an attempt to identify who trampled to death a Wal-Mart worker after a crowd of post-Thanksgiving shoppers burst through the doors at a suburban store and knocked him down.Criminal charges were possible…

It is very clear from the story, and the obvious facts, that Wal-Mart is at least equally, but perhaps more to blame than the shoppers. Who profited from the chaos being created? –the shoppers who believed they were getting a discount on goods which are already marked up for retail? or, the company who would make a profit, nonetheless from every customer they could get to the door, the ones who got the sale, and even the ones who would feel the need to buy something else when the sale item got sold out? (What is the term in retail? Bait and switch? Evidently these shoppers had experienced it before, or they would not have started lining up before 3 am in the morning.)

The AP/Yahoo News story is amazing in its distraction on the shopper, instead of the corporation. It quotes someone as saying that the shoppers acted like "savages". It paints a portrait of them being uncaring by continuing to shop (instead of noting that the shoppers could have been confused or in shock by having been in such a large crowd and experienced a tragedy, when they were only going somewhere to shop.) It assigns no blame to Wal-Mart, and even publishes the official line from the spokesperson/Vice President from Wal-Mart, which will help to bolster the company image and get their spin on the story out in public before the inevitable civil or criminal lawsuit against them.

I was gratified that the New York Times had a much better story about this incident. The New York Times focused much more on what Wal-Mart could have and should have done to prevent this incident. The New York Times allowed a speaker on behalf of workers and not just the capitalist, corporate owners to make a statement for the press.

The New York Times wrote:

Wal-Mart has successfully resisted unionization of its employees. New York State's largest grocery union, Local 1500 of the United Food and Commercial Workers, called the death of Mr. Damour "avoidable" and demanded investigations.

"Where were the safety barriers?" said Bruce Both, the union president. "Where was security? How did store management not see dangerous numbers of customers barreling down on the store in such an unsafe manner? This is not just tragic; it rises to a level of blatant irresponsibility by Wal-Mart."

The New York Times also points out another fact that indicts Wal Mart, who set the scene, over the people who specifically trampled Mr. Damour. "Four other people, including a 28-year-old woman who was described as eight months pregnant, were treated at the hospital for minor injuries."

Woody Guthrie knew who the outlaws were. He was always writing about the hypocrisy of men who were called robbers for stealing bread or money because they were poor, versus men who stole money "with a fountain pen." Wal Mart wrote the advertisements that lured shoppers to the store. Wal Mart architects designed a store where there was not easy entrance and exit, because that is better for them to watch their wares come and go. Wal Mart works in public relations, lawsuits, and even lobbying, to make sure that they don't have to unionize.

Wal Mart's guilt resonates in the words of a Woody Guthrie song put to music by Billy Bragg on the album "Mermaid Avenue." In the song "The Unwelcome Guest", an outlaw reflects: "I've never took food from the widow and orphans, And never a hard working man I oppressed…" At Wal-Mart on Black Friday 2008, a worker died, and four other people, including a pregnant woman, were trampled. And, none of them were going to save anything close to the amount of money that the Wal-Mart CEO's were going to make, if sales were high on Black Friday.


Blogger's note: Ian and I are going to Carnegie Hall tonight to see Woody's son, Arlo Guthrie, sing with Pete Seeger and friends. The Guthries and Pete Seeger have a long history of promoting unions, celebrating the working man, and singing out against injustice. Perhaps there will be a new song about Wal Mart? - KW

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Alex said...

I am glad someone blogged about this. When I heard about the incident I was horrified.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for reposting my story! I knew that there were Woody Guthrie fans who would truly understand! Great web-site you have here. Peace, Kimberly Wilder