January 17, 2011

Global Labor Coalition Challenges Walmart Bid

(Johannesburg, January 17, 2011)—A global coalition of labor, comprising of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the South African Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union (SACCAWU), Geneva-based UNI Global Union and the North American United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) attended Massmart’s shareholders meeting. Bentonville, Ark.-based Walmart has made a bid to acquire the South African retailer.

The unions spoke at the shareholders’ meeting and attended a worker demonstration outside.

Speaking at the event, Tyotyo James first Deputy-President of COSATU said, “Despite the advent of democracy in 1994, South Africa remains one of the most inequitable societies in the world. The acquisition of 51% of Massmart by Walmart will cut out even more local ownership of one of the major retail players in the country. Although Walmart has tried to convince the public otherwise, history has shown us that the entry of the world’s largest company would not be good for the consumers, suppliers, or people of South Africa.”

Mduduzi Mbongwe, Deputy General Secretary of SACCAWU, the union which represents Massmart’s workers, said, “Walmart has come into our country and tried to claim that it is union-friendly. But, we know from our friends and colleagues from around the world, and especially in the United States of America—the company’s home country—of Walmart’s relentless attacks on workers and unions.

Our short experience in trying to engage with Walmart thus far has been discouraging. If the company continues on this path without taking the concerns of workers and their union seriously, the outcome can only be industrial strife, which would not be good for workers or investors.”

Alke Boessiger, Head of the Commerce Sector for UNI Global Union said, “I attend here today with the fraternal greetings of 20 million union members who are members of UNI, and we stand in solidarity with SACCAWU and the workers in Massmart at this crucial time. From my vantage point I’ve heard from union leaders in places as diverse as Chile and Japan as they’ve dealt with Walmart’s entry into their countries. The one key lesson I can offer to the people of South Africa is that now, when the company is making their initial bid, is the time for the country and union to set strong standards that protect workers, local suppliers, and community interests.”

Michael Bride, Deputy Organizing Director for Global Strategies of the 1.3 million member strong UFCW International Union of USA and Canada said, “Walmart’s anti-worker and anti-union bias is well known in North America.  From closing a store in Canada after it voted for the union to the dissemination of anti-union propaganda among its U.S. staff, Walmart is widely acknowledged as the most anti-union company in America.

But Walmart is more than that – we must also tell the story of the devastating effect that Walmart’s business model has on communities, small businesses, and companies in the supply chain. I am honored to stand with our South African brothers and sisters and am compelled to tell them the full story of the Walmart effect.”

SACCAWU will challenge the proposed takeover via South African competition law and in the political realm, and will continue to directly educate its union membership about the implications for workers should the takeover proceed.