When we discuss the decision of the Trump administration to cut Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka “Food Stamps”), we quite justifiably think about the detrimental impacts upon the poor. But one element that we do not consider is how these policies also are an attack upon organized labor, particularly useful for consideration in construction of broad-based alliances that go across class and ethnic lines.
Statistically speaking, we know that 10% of grocery store income is derived from SNAP. A June 2017 story in Fortune was headlined “Walmart Could Lose $12.7 Billion in Sales Over Next Decade if Food Stamps Are Slashed.” (Admittedly that sum is perhaps a miniscule fraction for the shopping conglomerate and should not be construed as a defense of its grotesque corporate behavior on my part but that calculation still holds certain water.)
Grocery unionists are blue collar service employees. It is one of the last sectors in the labor market that you can ascend through without a high school degree. And even a cursory observation of the absolute living hell that nonunion workers at Wal-Mart exist in demonstrates how far grocer living standards could descend were their unions broken up.
Consider the shifting dynamics of power within this equation. While the American welfare state was rent through with contradictions because of various institutionalized oppression policies and a Pentagon Keynesian political economy mandating perpetuation of imperialism, its social democratic structure provided its select beneficiaries with a level of democratic redress and economic power that steadily increased over the decades. The neoliberal project of austerity, union-busting, and transitioning our financial regulatory edifice from one favoring borrowers to one favoring lenders upends the blocs of our political system, forcing the poor to rely on the good graces of the oligarchy rather than the state serving as an agent that grants power to the majority.
Because grocery union members can hail from lower-income social circumstances, their level of income and increasing sustained quality of life functions as a motor of wealth redistribution for their home communities. For instance, one’s increasing purchase power and ability to allocate funds to lower-income family members has the ability to provide a lifestyle that lifts these immediate beneficiaries out of poverty. (The fact that the conservatives harp on about self-reliance and individual responsibility while opposing the unions that can offer their members the opportunity to actualize those goals is the height of irony but such is the Race to the Bottom.)
This is by no means the only front of the war on grocery unions. Automated checkout lanes and roaming aisle cleanup droids seek to mechanize the workplace and therefore “reduce” the need for workers per shift. The grotesque Jeff Bezos has already rolled-out a cashier-free Amazon Go retail outlet in Seattle while chopping health benefits for part-time workers at the Whole Foods chain he purchased several years ago, just a year after a unionization drive made headlines.
By reducing a whole 10% of the demand for product in local economies, Trump coordinates with grocery store owners to thereby reduce the demand for labor in the grocery stores, precipitating layoffs and cuts for workers.
That this would perhaps lead more into unemployment and therefore need to take advantage of programs like SNAP is the final, disgusting cherry on top.