Media Whine, Consumers Win

     Every class has that straight-A student who studies, aces all his tests and wins all the academic awards. Other students start to envy him, but the smart students try to learn from him. Hes just working hard and succeeding.

     Wal-Mart is that free-market kid.

     Wal-Marts enemies and critics, who dont like to see the free market succeed, are making predictable assaults on the nations largest private employer. The U.S. economy is roaring ahead with job growth, low unemployment and high productivity, so these opponents of the free market are focusing their criticisms on businesses. They dont appreciate Wal-Marts contributions as a provider of affordable goods for shoppers, or for giving job opportunities to 1.3 million Americans including thousands of minorities, women and older workers.

     All that success is making Wal-Marts critics angry and envious. In response, they are working overtime to cripple the companys ability to grow through lawsuits, discriminatory state laws and community protests.

     It is important to realize that the attacks on Wal-Mart are not solely about Wal-Mart. They are about destroying capitalism. And in the interest of full disclosure, I do not own any Wal-Mart stock.

     A key group crusading against the company is called WakeUp Wal-Mart. This group claims to be a grassroots movement, but it has a telling notation at the bottom of its Web site: Copyright 2005 United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

     It should come as no surprise that unions are behind the majority of anti-Wal-Mart efforts, including the recently-passed Maryland law aimed directly at Wal-Mart. That law forces the retailer to pay 8 percent of its payroll costs to employees health benefits a practice that has led to bankruptcy in other industries, including the auto and airline sectors. If you thought Wal-Mart was the sole target of liberals hatred of the free market system, you had better think again. Maryland legislators are now considering a bill that would mandate all employers to spend a percentage of their payroll costs on employee health care. Worse yet, labor unions have vowed to push for similar legislation in at least thirty other states. This isnt just an attack on Wal-Mart. Its an attack on capitalism and our entire economy.

     The unions arent the only bully on the playground. They receive plenty of help from the media, who gladly seize any opportunity to frown on Wal-Mart. CNNs Miles OBrien even derided Wal-Mart workers in a January broadcast by wondering aloud whether were all going to be greeters at Wal-Mart some day because pension plans are declining. He might see employment with the company as a last resort, but it provides a living for 1.3 million U.S. workers, the majority of whom are full-time.

     Wal-Mart promotes its employees it doesnt keep them down. The company reports that 76 percent of its store management started in hourly positions. Its CEO, H. Lee Scott, started out as the assistant trucking manager in 1979 and has worked his way up to the top.

     The companys success has also allowed it to be generous in times of need, donating more than $18 million to Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. Wal-Mart provided merchandise for some of the Gulf communities and assisted its own workers after the disaster. It gave more than $13 million in assistance to more than 19,000 workers and helped more than 2,000 displaced employees find positions in other locations. The media and the critics never highlight these actions by Wal-Mart.

     Wal-Mart is one of many businesses that utilize the free market to fuel our growing economy. Unions and ill-informed legislators, fueled by envy and politics, are trying to kill that economic growth. People are starting to take notice that an attack on Wal-Mart and businesses is an attack on the very system that keeps our countrys economy thriving. The Retail Industry Leaders Association has noticed, and its 400 members have joined together to file suit against anti-Wal-Mart laws in Maryland and New York.

     Wal-Mart and other businesses are symbols of opportunity and hard work, allowing workers to obtain their American dream. They deserve an A-plus for free market success. The critics and opponents of that success simply want everyone to be D-students, resulting in economic failure for all.

Herman Cain is the former president and CEO of Godfathers Pizza, Inc. and currently is CEO and president of T.H.E. New Voice, Inc., a business and leadership consulting company. He is the National Chairman of the Media Research Centers Business & Media Institute.