Merchandising the caucuses

Wal-Mart, apparently recognizing that it has an image problem, will be campaigning in the Nevada Democratic presidential caucuses in 2008.

Wal-Mart has been taking concentrated fire from presidential candidates like Joseph Biden and John Edwards. In Pittsburgh on Aug. 4, Edwards spoke at one of the stops on the union-organized “Wake up Wal-Mart” bus tour that is traveling from coast to coast and will be in Las Vegas on Aug. 26. Biden, speaking in Des Moines in the first caucus state of Iowa, told a crowd on Aug. 16, “My problem with Wal-Mart is that I don’t see any indication that they care about the fate of middle-class people. They talk about paying them $10 an hour. That’s true. How can you live a middle-class life on that?” Hilary Rodham Clinton returned campaign money from the corporation, and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack held an anti-Wal-Mart town meeting in Des Moines on Aug. 17.

Wal-Mart is whipping into action, not by improving wages and benefits but by stepping up its public relations activities. And it apparently expects its workers to campaign for the corporation in state caucuses. It has sent letters to its employees in caucus states giving them information to use in the caucuses. The letters have gone to 12,000 workers in Nevada.

“We believe it’s wrong for these political candidates to attack Wal-Mart and the transformation underway at our company,” said the letter, dated Aug. 15. “We would never suggest to you how to vote, but we have an obligation to tell you when politicians are saying something about your company that isn’t true. After all, you are Wal-Mart. We know you take pride in your company and the work you do every day to generate the economic opportunities that so many working families in this country need right now. … Our stores save the average America household more than $2,300 per year. And our affordable health plans have helped move more than 150,000 uninsured Americans into company-sponsored insurance plans.”

Labor activist Andrew Barbano calls it a case of a gargantuan corporation leaning on its workers.

“The key line, of course, is the lead: ‘We would never suggest to you how to vote, BUT …’ That’s Wally World’s equivalent of ‘I’m not a liberal, BUT …’ or ‘I’m not a feminist, BUT …’ The word ‘but’ in such a context serves to contradict the qualifier. … This is an admission that they ARE (or are going to be) telling their employees how to vote,” Barbano wrote in an e-mail response to the RN&R.

In related news, Wal-Mart banned from its Tennessee stores a voter registration firm working under a contract with Sproul and Associates, the company accused of destroying Democratic voter registations in Nevada in 2004. The store ban may be extended to California and Nevada.