WALMART V. WOMEN: On June 20 the Supreme Court unanimously slapped down the largest civil rights class-action suit in history—on a dry technicality. The justices agreed that Dukes v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., the ten-year sex discrimination lawsuit, should not proceed as a class action because lower courts had not followed proper procedure in certifying it. Although the ruling is discouraging, it does not represent an end to the fight for justice at Walmart.
Dukes was an effort to redress a massive pattern of inequity at the nation’s largest private employer. Women were paid less than men in just about every position at the company, and promoted at far lower rates, despite higher performance evaluations. Walmart’s lawyers had urged it to settle, but the company was determined to keep fighting all the way to the Supreme Court—and had the resources to do so.
Women—whether or not we work at Walmart—are furious about this decision. But it’s not yet clear how definitive a defeat it is. The justices all agreed that Dukes should not be certified, but they disagreed on why. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg argued in a partial dissent that the plaintiffs could have succeeded had their lawyers used a different strategy. More important, the ruling underscores the need for better organizing, something that is already under way. The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), along with urban communities across the country, has been working tirelessly to block the retailer’s plans to set up shop in large cities like New York, Washington and Philadelphia. More prominent in these fights than ever are the people who should have been at the forefront all along; the UFCW has started a group called Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart), through which employees can pressure the company for better wages and working conditions without—prematurely—enduring grueling and costly battles for official union recognition.
The UFCW has organized some rallies in the wake of Dukes. Imagine if it tapped into the outrage of women all over the country. For a company already economically vulnerable—in these tough times, the poor people who traditionally made up its customer base can no longer afford to shop at Walmart—serious political opposition and consumer disgust might hurt even more than a lawsuit. It’s time to stop depending on the legal system alone. LIZA FEATHERSTONE
MAYORS AGAINST THE WAR: For the first time in four decades, the US Conference of Mayors has called on Washington to end a war, or more precisely wars, on the grounds that the billions being spent in Iraq and Afghanistan are needed in their own cities and states. Meeting in Baltimore on June 20, the mayors passed a resolution urging President Obama and Congress to “bring these war dollars home to meet vital human needs, promote job creation, rebuild our infrastructure, aid municipal and state governments, and develop a new economy based upon renewable, sustainable energy, and reduce the national debt.” In a period of recession and slashed federal and state aid, cities have taken the hardest hits.
“As mayors, we recognize the absurdly false choice being put to Americans—that we somehow have to pick between all the priorities we care deeply about but can’t touch massive spending on the military,” said Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, who co-introduced the proposal. “There are so many better uses for the money,” said Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. After a debate that saw Randy Hayes, mayor of the military town of Pendleton, South Carolina, agree with veteran antiwar campaigner Paul Soglin, mayor of Madison, Wisconsin, when he said the resolution was “rather temperate,” since it didn’t demand immediate withdrawal, this argument carried the day. JOHN NICHOLS
JAILING DISSIDENTS IN BAHRAIN: Since Saudi troops entered Bahrain on March 14, marking the start of a brutal crackdown by the Bahraini government on mostly Shiite protesters calling for democratic reforms, thousands have been arrested and hundreds tried in military court. On June 22, eight opposition leaders were sentenced to life imprisonment for trying to overthrow the Sunni regime of Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, who declared himself king in 2002. Among them are human rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja; academic Abduljalil al-Singace, who is physically disabled; and Hassan Mushaima, leader of the underground Haq movement. Another nineteen opposition leaders were given sentences ranging from two to fifteen years.
The verdict was met with protests inside the courtroom, according to Hugh Tomlinson of the Times of London, who was given rare access. “We will continue our peaceful struggle against the regime!” cried Khawaja. Ebrahim Sharif, leader of the leftist National Democratic Action Society, emphasized, “Peacefully, peacefully,” after being sentenced to five years. All the defendants said they were tortured by interrogators seeking confessions. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have condemned the trials for their lack of due process, and the sentences have angered many Bahrainis, sparking further unrest amid a heightened security presence within Shiite villages.
Bahrain is a key US ally in the region. On June 22 the State Department said it is “concerned about the severity” of the sentences. Meanwhile, forty-seven medical personnel who treated pro-democracy protesters are also on trial for crimes against the state.’ ALA’A SHEHABI
COSTLY MISTAKES: For people who spend years behind bars for crimes they did not commit, it is impossible to quantify what they’ve lost. Now an expansive new report puts a price tag on what wrongful convictions have cost taxpayers in one state for the past twenty years. In Illinois, according to a joint study between Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions and the Better Government Association, which tracked exonerations from 1989 to 2010, the total comes to $214 million.
Even more sobering is what this has meant for public safety. “While 85 people were wrongfully incarcerated,” the study found, “the actual perpetrators were on a collective crime spree that included 14 murders, 11 sexual assaults, 10 kidnappings and at least 62 other felonies.” The most common cause of wrongful convictions: “alleged government error and misconduct by police, prosecutors, and forensic officials.”
Learn more at bettergov.org/.