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.