This cartoon by Pat Bagely was published on November 19, 2013 and refers to the poor treatment of Walmart workers, as well as shows support for those who went on strike due to these conditions. On of the most famous strikes occured on November 29, 2013 by workers at Walmart because it is notoriously anti-union, doesn’t provide healthcare to about half of their workers, and does not adequately pay their workers (Weissman). Sixteen people were fired from their jobs at Walmart for striking, but an administrative judge ruled that the workers be allowed back and compensated for their time (Malcom). Walmart has cited the laws created which rule strikes illegal in the National Labor Relation Act in order to justify its actions and is still fighting a legal battle to this day (Malcom).
In this cartoon, there are two juxtaposing sides. One, labelled “Walmart Heirs”, depicts a clearly affluent woman named Christy auctioning off a painting of a can of soup. In order to understand this image, one must first know who “Christy” is. Christy Walton is the widow of John T. Walton, one of sons of Sam Walton (the founder of Walmart) (“Christy Walton”). As of today, she is currently one of the wealthiest women in the world (“Christy Walton”). What further establishes the idea of providence on this side of the cartoon is the specific painting being referenced. The cartoonist is alluding to the painting by the famous artist Andy Warhol (his name can be seen scrawled under the image of the can of soup) titled Campbell’s Soup Cans. This painting last sold for 11.7 million dollars (Heinrich). Clearly, the cartoonist is attempting to represent the amount of wealth linked to the Walmart brand.
The other side of the cartoon, labelled Walmart employees, stands in stark contrast to the left side of the cartoon. It depicts a disheveled woman in a break room picking through a bin labelled “food donation for hungry fellow workers”. In her hand is a can of what looks to be Campbell’s soup. This is clearly a commentary on the inadequate pay for Walmart workers, because it is suggesting that they can barely afford a can of soup. Additionally, the security camera conveys the idea that the workers are constantly under surveillance and have little room for error despite inadequate pay and awful working conditions. The humor in this cartoon is clearly derived from the wealth discrepancy between the two sides of the cartoon. While on one hand, the Walmart heirs are capable of possessing a painting of a can of soup worth 11.7 million dollars, Walmart employees are barely able to afford an actual can of soup, which are worth approximately 2 dollars. Because this cartoon was published in the midst of the Walmart strikes, it is an expression of the opinion that workers went on strike for good reason, and deserve to have their needs met.
While it is easy to understand the cartoon at a surface level by ascertaining that Walmart heirs are rich and Walmart employees are poor, it is beneficial to know how these conditions came to be and why they were eventually met with such discontent. One aspect which contributed to these feelings is Walmart’s continuous anti-union sentiment. For many years, Wal-Mart has taken a fiercely antagonistic stance towards organized labor, keeping its stores union free by using every ounce of leverage Congress has given employers — so much so that, in 2007, Human Rights Watch called the company “‘a case study in what is wrong with U.S. labor laws.” (Weissman). Walmart kept its workers in constant fear of joining unions, and was not afraid to take extreme actions in order to keep it that way. One example of this is when a group of Texas butchers voted to unionize in 2000, the company responded to the only successful U.S. union drive in its history by switching to selling pre-packaged meat company wide (Weissman). No more butchers.
As a result of this anti-union sentiment, Walmart has managed to keep pay and working conditions less than ideal. The median retail worker for a large chain earns $14.42 an hour, but independent analysis pegs the figure much lower for Walmart, closer to $9 (Hiltzik). This is not a living wage. Across the country, many employees of Walmart were living at or below the poverty line. In 2009, Ohio officials disclosed that more than 15,200 Wal-Mart employees in the state were receiving Medicaid, and 12,700 were on food stamps (Hiltzik). In 2013, a company executive disclosed that more than 475,000 of its employees earned more than $25,000 a year (Hiltzik). Unfortunately, this means that half of a million people were earning wages which put them below the poverty line.
In response to their treatment by Walmart, employees gathered together to form OUR Walmart, an employee advocacy group focused on pressuring Walmart to improve pay and working conditions (Eidelson). When workers went on strike on November 29, 2013, sixteen employees were eventually fired due to their participation in the strike (Malcom). Upon investigation, it was found that Walmart’s actions against striking employees was a direct violation of labor laws (Malcom). This reveals a direct correlation to the cartoon “Not a Good Place to Sit” by John Knott. In both cases, an issue was brought to the National Labor Relations Board due to strikes caused by inadequate pay and bad working conditions. Because of the legislation set up in the era of the John Knott cartoon in response to the General Motors strikes, it was ruled that Walmart was not legally allowed to fire employees simply because they were striking (Malcom). Had the employees been subject to the laws presented by Texas Senator Dies in the 1930’s, they would have been fired without dispute. Because the laws have changed since then, strikers are protected in the way of employment and felony charges. However, Walmart is still trying to find loopholes in the National Labor Relations Act in order to justify their actions (Malcom). As a result, the legal battle between Walmart and its employees continues to this day.
In Conclusion, this cartoon is a show of support for those workers who went on strike and continue to fight Walmart in court. It points out the clear disparity between the owners and the employees of Walmart, and alludes to much deeper issues. Finally, it provides a direct correlation between the labor laws established in the late 1930’s and those which we have today, and how they aid or harm workers when they go face to face with an extremely powerful company such as General Motors or Walmart. One day, we may see the fault in actions taken against workers which have time and time again resulted in discontent and copious amounts of legal work. This shows that issues we had more than half a century ago are still unresolved and need to be seriously reconsidered if we are to look towards a more desirable future for our nation’s workers.
“Christy Walton.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 2 Jan. 2017. Web. 14 Jan. 2017.
Heinrich, Will. “$71 Million Can’t Be Wrong! ‘Andy Warhol Colored Campbell’s Soup Cans’ at L&M Arts.” Observer. Observer, 01 June 2011. Web. 2 Feb. 2017.
Hiltzik, Michael. “Wal-Mart’s Raise Underscores the Poor Condition of Most Low-wage Workers.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 19 Feb. 2015. Web. 23 Dec. 2016.
Eidelson, Josh September. “Walmart Workers Plan ‘Widespread, Massive Strikes and Protests’ for Black Friday 2013.” The Nation. The Nation, 29 June 2015. Web. 9 Jan. 2017.
Malcolm, Hadley. “Judge Rules Walmart Unlawfully Fired Workers on Strike.” USA Today. Gannett Satellite Information Network, 22 Jan. 2016. Web. 16 Dec. 2016.
Weissmann, Jordan. “Who’s Really to Blame for the Wal-Mart Strikes? The American Consumer.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 22 Nov. 2012. Web. 16 Feb. 2017.