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Wal-Mart’s Authoritarian Style

Nelson Lichenstein says a patriarchal ethos was written into Wal-Mart’s DNA that today helps sustain high corporate loyalty even as wages and working conditions are eroded.

What’s the Latest Development?

Nelson Lichtenstein argues that the underlying issue in the Supreme Court’s blocking of a class-action sex-discrimination suit against Wal-Mart, “is the company’s authoritarian style, by which executives pressure store-level management to squeeze more and more from millions of clerks, stockers and lower-tier managers.”

What’s the Big Idea?

The way Lichtenstein sees it, Walmart manages to sustain a high degree of corporate loyalty, even as wages and working conditions are eroded, through the rebadging of its patriarchal ethos of old into “a more systematically authoritarian structure” today. Wal-Mart attorneys argued, and the Supreme Court agreed, that even if sex discrimination was once part of the company’s culture, it is now ancient history. But Lichtenstein says that Wal-Mart’s insistence that almost all workers promoted to the managerial ranks move to a new store mounts to sex discrimination for middle-aged women caring for families.


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