Friday, September 3, 2010



New thoughts have arisen in my febrile mind, thanks to my brother, involving Walmart’s finally successful efforts to build stores in the city of Chicago over the objections of a city council that apparently sees its role as doing the bidding of organized labor. I theorized in my 6/25/10 piece “BROTHER, BROTHER, WE DON’T NEED TO ESCALATE…” that some kind of deal had been cut. Clearly, it wasn’t the extra 50 cents an hour and the promise of more construction jobs that got Chicago Federation of Labor President Dennis Gannon and Ed Burke, labor’s main man in the Council, to agree to Walmart’s plans. But the story may have been more complex than I thought.

My brother and I were discussing this issue, among others, this evening. He was complaining about Mayor Daley’s objecting to Walmart building in the city when it is quite clear that building a slew of Walmart’s would be highly beneficial for the city at large and especially for the underserved communities in which most of the stores will be built. I objected, saying that Daley was all for Walmart’s plan, that it was the city council, and especially Alderman Burke, that was in opposition. As soon as those words had left my mouth, even before my brother countered, I realized that I might have made one of the most naïve statements of my entire life, but my brother went ahead with his counter-argument anyway. He pointed out that Daley can get the city council to do anything he wants; he even got them to go along with the parking meter fiasco. So if the Mayor really wanted Walmart’s deal, the city council would have presented no hurdle. My brother concluded that Daley’s show of favoring Walmart’s full scale entrance into the city was just that, a show.

My brother had a good point and made me realize how naïve I was being in taking Daley’s stance on Walmart at face value. But, after pondering it awhile, I think the situation is more complicated. If Daley controls the city council as tightly as most people think, and he wanted Walmart to expand beyond its existing store in the city as badly as he indicated, the first few new stores would have been built by now, unless:

--Daley didn’t really want Walmart in the city. This is possible; Daley is beholden to labor, more than he lets on, so he may have been trying to play both sides of the fence, feigning reasonableness to the business community while satisfying the people who really count in his world. So, yes, possible, but not probable; Daley’s relationship with labor has been deteriorating for years. He feels more comfortable consorting with big business and commercial types. One even gets the impression he somehow harbors a secret wish to belong to the Winnetka Country Club, if such a place exists. Further, Daley is a smart man and can see the obvious economic benefit of a large Walmart presence in Chicago. It seems clear he’s always wanted a large Walmart presence here.

--Daley doesn’t control the city council. This is laughable. The man is in charge and the only questions from the city council when Daley barks his orders are something on the order of “How high, Mr. Mayor?”. One might legitimately argue that most of what Daley asks for, and gets, from his rubber stamp council have been items that labor supports or at least doesn’t object to very strenuously. But Walmart was different; this was something to which labor objected vociferously. So perhaps the council isn’t controlled by Daley but, rather, is controlled by labor and only appears to be controlled by Daley because he, in turn, is controlled by labor. This is somewhat implausible, however, for reasons outlined in the last bullet point.

--Daley always wanted Walmart to build heavily in Chicago but wanted a better deal for workers, communities, the city, or maybe even for his cabal of cronies who have benefited so mightily from his tenure as mayor. He disingenuously set up the ruse of council objection to Walmart, or at least didn’t object when the council exercised its natural obeisance to labor, in order to extract concessions from Walmart. Then, either the as yet undetected and never to be disclosed deal was cut (See, again, my 6/25/10 post “BROTHER, BROTHER, WE DON’T NEED TO ESCALATE…”) or Walmart told Daley that its last offer was on the table and he had better take the deal or it would go about building dozens of stores located, as is the Evergreen Park store, a block or two from the city border. Either way, suddenly city council objections vanished and the go-ahead was given for Walmart to first build the West Pullman and Chatham stores and then about as many more Chicago stores as the people in Bentonville who run Walmart want.

It’s easy to believe this last theory, especially when one loves a good conspiratorial tale as much as does the author of The Chairman, A Novel of Big City Politics and its (still) soon to be released sequel, The Chairman’s Challenge, A Continuing Novel of Big City Politics. If one really wants to have some fun, one could further speculate about the possibility of Messrs. Gannon, Burke, and the local labor movement being in on Daley’s disingenuous machinations. The only question seems to be whether Daley cut a good deal for one or several of his constituencies or whether Walmart outmaneuvered him. Either way, the dogs were called off and Walmart got its way. But did Daley get his?

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