In a June 20 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court struck a note for liberty when it overruled Federal courts in San Francisco that had allowed all women who worked for Walmart since December 1998 to join in a single, nationwide suit seeking back pay. I say struck a note for liberty, because this was about far more than Walmart’s winning out over a bunch of high-priced litigators who represented a group of ungrateful Walmart employees.
The court ruled that the 1.5 million women at 3,400 Walmart stores in the United States had too little in common to allow a class-action lawsuit to move forward. In the court’s opinion, there was no proof that Walmart employed a general policy of “systemic discrimination.”
What makes the Supreme Court’s decision especially delightful is that the law firm of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll lost roughly $7 million in pursuing this classic deep-pockets case. It’s enough to make one fantasize about how different our court system (and our economy) would be if attorneys who lost frivolous lawsuits would be required to pay the winners’ legal fees.
But let’s get back to Walmart’s employees. Forget that Walmart is the No. 1 employer in the country, employing 1.4 million Americans in 4,424 stores. (Worldwide, Walmart employs more than 2.1 million people in 9,198 stores.) Forget that Walmart saves consumers billions of dollars each year on retail purchases. Forget that its employees, on average, earn about double the minimum wage. It doesn’t matter how much good Walmart does, the raw-meat crowd continues to call for beheadings. Bring on the Jacobins!
The word from some disgruntled employees has long been that Walmart doesn’t treat its employees “fairly” — whatever that’s supposed to mean. But, definitions aside, this is your lucky day. Because if you think Walmart is “unfair,” guess what? You don’t have to shop there.
Wow! What a novel idea: shopping with your feet. If you don’t like the fact that Walmart carries too many products made in “sweatshop” countries, shop with your feet. If you believe Walmart puts smaller retailers out of business and you’re unhappy about that, shop with your feet.
Nevertheless, to make it easy on the social-justice crowd, let’s assume there is such a thing as absolute fairness. And let’s further assume that Walmart does, indeed, treat its employees unfairly. That, of course, begs the question: What in the world can be done to protect Walmart’s paid slaves?
More good news: In a truly free society, unfair treatment of employees would never be an issue, because workers would be free to sell their services for the highest possible wages in the open market. If someone chose to work at Walmart, he would do so only because he believed, consciously or otherwise, that it afforded him the best opportunity to be adequately compensated for his skills, his experience and his efforts.
An employer doesn’t ask a job applicant to present a list of his job requirements when he submits his application. On the contrary, the employer lets the applicant know, in advance, what the company’s conditions of employment are.
If those conditions call for 15-hour workdays, minimum-wage pay and no paid sick leave, so be it. How can I say such a dastardly thing? Because an employee not only does not have to take such a job, he also has the right to quit his job at any time.
Furthermore, since an unhappy employee is free, he can apply for another job anywhere he chooses. No permission needed. On the other hand, if he chooses to stay in his present employment situation, he is making a clear statement that he believes it’s the best position he can hope to obtain at that particular time. If this were not true, he would be insane, or perhaps masochistic, to remain in his present job.
It doesn’t take a Ludwig von Mises to explain it. In a free market, everything works smoothly because both employers and employees are free to make their own choices. It’s only when government bureaucrats or labor thugs (aka labor unions) enter the picture that freedoms are violated.
All government intervention between employers and employees results in infringements on the rights of one or the other — or both. The same goes with labor unions. The actions of most labor unions are fundamentally immoral and in violation of the Constitutional rights of both employees and employers.
The so-called union shop is a violation of the natural rights of every employee who is forced to join a union against his will — even without the new card-check legislation being proposed by the National Labor Relations Board. And, worse, it is a violation of the rights of an employer to hire whomever he wants, whenever he wants, for whatever reasons are important to him.
Unfortunately, that’s not reality in today’s People’s Republic of America. After decades of artificially high wages and benefits, job-protection schemes and government-mandated safety standards, spoiled American workers demand still more.
I would make the case that an excellent investment for Walmart would be to spend mega-millions of dollars to educate its employees about the morality and efficacy of liberty and laissez-faire economics. It would be a lot less expensive than the draconian legal fees it is certain to continue incurring in the coming years.
Now that we’ve come face to face with the ugly realities of Marxism in the United States, it’s time for corporate leaders to man up and start educating their own employees, as well as the public at large, about the wonders of capitalism. History has clearly taught us what to expect if good men do nothing.
However, educating muddled minds does not begin with the worker; it begins with big business. If corporate America does not truly believe in laissez-faire capitalism, why should its workers? And if it does believe in laissez-faire capitalism, but is unwilling to suffer “mortification of the flesh” (in the words of Frank Chodorov) in presenting the truth to the public, then the case for free enterprise is lost.
In the meantime, it’s up to each of us to become proactive and not wait for corporate America to come to our rescue. Take every opportunity you can get to extol the virtues of capitalism; when you do so, you extol the virtues of freedom. It’s true that you are but one person in a sea of millions, but it is completely within your power to be part of the solution to America’s ills rather than part of the problem.
If the Supreme Court can rule in favor of liberty, anything is possible.