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Jose Tejeda, a member of Warehouse Workers United, talks about the “dark side of Walmart” — working 16-hour days without breaks, and at a fast pace lifting hundreds of heavy boxes every hour. When employees started to unite to improve conditions, they suddenly faced retaliation, shortened work days and less pay.
There are epic chapters in American history that inspire a seemingly endless flow of fiction, historical analysis and first-person reflection. Not least among these chapters is the 1960s, and the dramatic social movements that helped define that decade.
One of the newest entrees in the ’60s canon is Gates of Eden, a novel by longtime theater artist and political activist Charles Degelman. The anti-war movement is the canvas against which Degelman sets his story, and while the book is not autobiographical, the author knows his subject well. After graduating from Harvard in 1967, Degelman left Cambridge for San Francisco and joined the San Francisco Mime Troupe, the radical theater company grounded in the work of Bertolt Brecht. The troupe performed its anti-war repertoire across the country, partnering with Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), one of the leading activist groups of the era.
A room attendant at downtown’s Luxe City Center, Bravilla is one of thousands of workers in the city’s largest industry, a sector that generates hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues every year. Her job is to give guests the most enjoyable experience possible by making the beds, cleaning the floors and polishing every piece of glass until it shines. If she does her job well, guests are happy and the hotel industry – as well as the local economy – benefits.
But the people who do this grueling work too often are not rewarded for it. More than 40 percent of L.A. hospitality workers are poor, unable to pay for basic necessities like rent and food.
What that means is that we are not taking care of the women and men who help take of our city and its guests.
(Note: This 2010 L.A. Times op-ed appeared on the 75th anniversary of the signing of the Social Security Act. Today is that landmark legislation’s 77th birthday and, with Social Security certain to be one of the defining debate topics of this year’s presidential contest, we feel this piece is worth revisiting. Reposted with the authors’ permission.)
Alf Landon, the Kansas governor running as the Republican Party’s 1936 presidential candidate, called it a “fraud on the working man.” Silas Strawn, a former president of both the American Bar Assn. and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said it was part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s attempt to “Sovietize the country.” The American Medical Assn. denounced it as a “compulsory socialistic tax.”
What was this threat to American prosperity, freedom and democracy they were all decrying? It was Social Security, which Roosevelt signed into law on Aug.
Last month Walmart pulled out of Somerville and Watertown, two cities outside of Boston, claiming it wasn’t economically feasible for the company to open markets in these areas. Here’s what Walmart spokesperson Steven Restivo told Boston.com: “One of the primary deciding factors on any given site – whether it’s in an urban, suburban or rural market – is that it makes sense from a business perspective and contributes to our bottom line.”
It’s hard to believe a company that has been around for 50 years didn’t foresee that these markets wouldn’t “make sense from a business perspective” before it announced plans to open them. Walmart knows what it takes to expand and survive, including hiring expensive lobbyists, handing out money to nonprofits and reducing its market size to avoid local planning requirements. I dug a little deeper and found that the real story is much more complicated than Walmart wants to let on.