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Worker trampled to death at store

Wal-Mart & capitalism to blame

Published Dec 14, 2008 5:18 PM

The family of Jdimytai Damour, the 34-year-old immigrant worker who was trampled to death while working at Wal-Mart in Valley Stream, N.Y., has filed a lawsuit against the giant retail chain.

A huge crowd had come to shop on the Friday after “Thanksgiving.” Known as “Black Friday,” it is supposed to be the busiest shopping day of the year—the day when retail stores look to become profitable for the whole year. The crowd broke through a door and overwhelmed the temporary worker, who died from asphyxiation.

Damour had been hired at Wal-Mart through a temporary agency and had only been there for a week. While the police and many media outlets have focused on the crowds, criminalizing them, the lawsuit shows the complicity of Wal-Mart and rightly blames the retailer for his death.

It is a sign of the sickness of this society that a person could be trampled by a throng of people looking for deals on consumer goods and that the crowd, in callous disregard of another’s life, continued to shop after being notified of the worker’s death.

This sickness, however, is not something inherent in human nature. It is a sickness born of a system, a system that also breeds greed. It is a system where retailers, hoping to procure great profits, air commercials of huge crowds clamoring outside their doors, chanting and yelling to get inside so they can beat others to get deals that are limited for a few hours or one day.

One mattress company has an outrageous commercial where workers at the store affix mattresses to their bodies, and once they open the door they are trampled by a crowd looking for bargains.

The frenzy for deals is manufactured. At a time of economic crisis, when workers and the oppressed are looking to secure consumer goods at low prices—prices much lower than on most other days—this frenzy becomes amplified. Retailers such as Wal-Mart are well aware of this.

In a Wal-Mart statement after Damour’s death, the company said in part: “We consider Mr. Damour part of the Wal-Mart family, and are saddened by his death. ... We have been in communication with members of his family to do what we can to help them through this difficult time. Our associates know that when incidents like this occur, we take care of our own.”

But Wal-Mart’s claim rings hollow.

Wal-Mart is the largest employer in the U.S. and one of the largest on the planet. The Walton family are multibillionaires, and their combined fortunes dwarf that of even the richest of other families.

Wal-Mart is notoriously anti-union and pays its workers poverty wages. According to a 2005 article in Political Affairs magazine, in 2004 the average full-time worker at Wal-Mart received $9.68 per hour before taxes. That wage is a liberal estimate.

After the average tax rate, that pay falls below the poverty rate for a family of three. Part-time workers make at the most $8 per hour. The Food and Commercial Workers union says Wal-Mart workers have to pay one-fifth of their wages if they want health care coverage.

Wal-Mart is vicious when it comes to unions and intimidates, harasses and fires workers who openly demand unionization. Wal-Mart closed a store in Quebec in 2005 after the workers voted for union representation to win higher wages, better health care and a better work atmosphere.

The Political Affairs article also highlights the low wages subcontract workers around the world make for assembling items sold by Wal-Mart—17 cents per hour in Bangladesh, 23 cents per hour in Nicaragua and 53 cents per hour in Swaziland.

It is a sick joke for Wal-Mart to claim, “We take care of our own.” The truth is closer to what is alleged in the Damour lawsuit: the retailer “engaged in specific marketing and advertising techniques to specifically attract a large crowd and create an environment of frenzy and mayhem and was otherwise careless, reckless and negligent.”

Wal-Mart cares for one thing only–profit. It tramples the rights of workers, and it was more concerned with profit than with the life of Jdimytai Damour. The profit motive is what the capitalist system is built around, and consumerism flows from this system, as do other anti-social ills.

The family is right. Wal-Mart is to blame.