Wal_Mart_s_Tale_of_Two_Cities - WAL-MART'S TALE OF TWO...

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WAL-MART'S TALE OF TWO CITIES: FROM BENTONVILLE TO SHENZHEN By Nelson Lichtenstein New Labor Forum 15:2, Summer 2006, 9-19 A GLOBALIZED WORLD OF COMMERCE AND LABOR HAS EXISTED FOR CENTURIES. THE Vanderbilts and the Victorians knew all about the China trade. But today's globalization differs radically from that of even a few decades past because of the contemporary role played by the corporate king-makers of our day, the big box retail chains that now occupy the strategic heights once so well-garrisoned by the great manufacturing firms of the Fordist era. At the crux of the global supply chains stand the Wal-Marts, the Home Depots, and the Carrefours of our time. They make the markets, set the prices, and determine the worldwide distribution of labor for that gigantic stream of commodities that now flows across their counters. The deindustrialization of Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland entailed not just the destruction of a particular set of industries and communities, but the shift of power within the structures of world capitalism from manufacturing to a retail sector that today commands the supply chains which girdle the earth and directs the labor power of a working class whose condition replicates much that we once thought characteristic of only the most desperate, early stages of capitalist growth. All this is graphically apparent upon a visit to the two most dynamic nodes of transnational capitalism today. It is easy to get to Bentonville, Arkansas, where Wal-Mart has its world headquarters in an unimpressive, low-slung building hard by the company's original warehouse. There are lots of direct flights from Denver, Chicago, La Guardia, and Los Angeles to this once remote Arkansas town. It is still not very big. Between Fayetteville and the Missouri line there are hardly more than 300,000 people. But it is now the fastest growing metropolitan region in the country. The parking lots are full, the streets crowded, and new construction everywhere. Most important, Bentonville is now home to at least 500 branch offices of the largest Wal-Mart "vendors" who have planted their corporate flag in Northwest Arkansas in the hopes that they can maintain or increase their sales to the world's largest buyer of consumer products. Proctor & Gamble, which in 1987 may well have been the first company to put an office in Northwest Arkansas, now has a staff of nearly 200 there; likewise Sanyo, Levi Strauss, Nestle, Johnson and Johnson, Eastman Kodak, Mattel, and Kraft Foods maintain large offices in what the locals sometimes call "Vendorville." Walt Disney's large retail business has its headquarters not in Los Angeles, but in nearby Rogers, Arkansas. These Wal-Mart suppliers are a who's who of American and international business, staffed by ambitious young executives who have come to see a posting to once-remote Bentonville as the crucial step that can make or break a corporate career.1 If they can meet Wal-Mart's exacting price and performance standards, their products
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This note was uploaded on 05/19/2008 for the course ILRIC 4330 taught by Professor Turnerl during the Spring '06 term at Cornell University (Engineering School).

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Wal_Mart_s_Tale_of_Two_Cities - WAL-MART'S TALE OF TWO...

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