Save the Kmart on Lake Street and Nicollet Ave in Minneapolis

 

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Photo taken at May 1 2015 demonstration at the corner of Nicollet Avenue and Lake Street in front of the Kmart   where immigrant rights and Black Lives Matter marches met and became one.  

Two years ago I invited my Race and Public Policy class to my home for the final session. The way things worked out, a few students had not presented their policy proposals. They needed a TV to project their powerpoint. I did not own a TV.
Or a car.
“No problem” by partner said, and he hopped on the 4th Ave bus to the Lake street Kmart. Within an hour he emerged from a taxi with a digital TV.

Thirty years ago when we lived on 32nd and 3rd Ave, Kmart was six blocks away. We didn’t have a car then either and we shopped there regularly. A few years later we moved to an apartment building off of 34th and Chicago, by Powderhorn Park. At that time we had a car, a baby and the gift of a cloth diaper service, but we found that pampers at night made the difference between sleeping and not sleeping. Emergency trips to Kmart for diapers were common.

More recently my school social work husband has taken to running to Kmart to buy emergency clothing for middle school kids caught with embarrassing stains or simply no clothing. Last time he did that I asked him to pick me up a pair of jeans. Dreaded shopping done.

My family’s use of Kmart is basically irrelevant to this debate, except that it may help explain why I know how important it is in South Minneapolis if you live without car.

If you walk into the Lake street store you will immediately notice that it is bilingual space. Those iconic announcements to Kmart shoppers are made in accented English and native Spanish. The parking lot is usually not full because many shoppers don’t have cars. They walk, bike and haul Kmart bags on buses on Lake and First Avenue. I imagine that many of the people who work as prep cooks, dish washers and store cleaners at all those sweet little restaurants north on “Eat Street” and those new cafes and coffee shops opening up south of the store on Nicollet, shop at Kmart.

I don’t think Kmart is a progressive employer or buyer of goods. But as long as big box stores are a necessity for basics like diapers and inexpensive clothing and those big ticket items like TVs  we occasionally purchase, we need these stores to be accessible to all. I ask those who are crying to get rid of it — do you shop at a big box store? If so, do you have right to take away the only one that is accessible to your neighbors?

Maybe I’m off base. I suggest someone from City Hall who speaks Spanish go talk to people who work and shop there before they make a decision.

I do think there are other agendas that  City Hall and the Minnesota legislature need to attend to first. The #Mplsworks agenda of living wages, regular work schedules and sick days  will make it possible for people to afford the time and transportation costs to go elsewhere.
Passing legislation for drivers’ licenses for all,  will help non-citizens who shop at Kmart get to another store.

Given all we need to do to #ReclaimOurCity,  getting rid of the Kmart on Lake Street seems like a strange priority.

Short-term memory and the fight for Working Families in Minneapolis

 

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I am old enough to have started my work life in Minneapolis at a time when sexual harassment on the job was not a phrase, just an everyday nothing-you-can-do-about-it reality. Gender discrimination in hiring and wages were just how people did business. Racial discrimination was rampant in both the the workplace and in unions. Race and gender discrimination was illegal, (I’m not that old!) but our ability to litigate, as individuals or in class action suits were limited and small businesses were basically untouched.

In other words it was not the good old days. However, for the half-dozen crappy food service jobs I had in the 1970s and 80s,  I always received a schedule – part or full time. Working more or fewer hours was offered as an opportunity to me, not a requirement. So when businesses large and small cry that they can not possibly survive if they give workers a regular schedule they can count on, they are counting on us having short-term memories.

In fact flexible scheduling is an “innovation” of the 1990s,  an outgrowth of  globalization, free trade, and the rise and reification of business education.

I remember one corporate winner-of-the-year I heard on the  radio in the 90s  use the analogy of a boat in the sea  without  allegiance to country or workforce, able to pick up and follow the cheapest labor source. Genius! These were the people that everyone who wanted to make a million overnight, sought to be like, They were the ones in the limelight.

I am also old enough to have started college at a time when there were no temples to business on University campuses overshadowing liberal arts, as they literally do on the University of Minnesota west bank campus.  Inside those new buildings experts in the early 1990s with lots of letters after their names explained the joys of free trade — a happening  post-cold-war innovation.  The  North American Free Trade Agreement, inaugurated on January 1 1994, would be the template for all global and local trade relations.

 

Until a band of indigenous farmers from Chiapas interrupted the celebration on the eve of the inauguration of NAFTA.  The barely armed Zapatistas interrupted the party.  They used the brand new internet to build solidarity across the globe.  Ever since, workers and small-scale farmers have been crossing borders to fight the vagaries of so-called free trade and the boomerang dislocation of workers at home.

If you are a boss, no question, flexibility in scheduling and hiring and firing is good. Which is why it has been adopted by every kind of industry — from hospitals to universities, trucking to restaurants, warehousing to mining. And if you are a worker it sucks. There is no middle ground, just an ocean between the two. The only way workers can make it worth it to an employer to pay decent wages,  provide decent schedules, and time off for sickness and family needs is when workers agitate and labor peace becomes a cheaper way to go.

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In Minneapolis a coalition of groups including CTUL, NOC SEIU and the Minneapolis AFL-CIO and Fight for $15  have been organizing around the Working Families Agenda that includes living wages, regular scheduling, and sick time — conditions that allow us to care for children and elders, build lives and careers.  Such across-the-board legislation would allow those businesses who want to do well by their employees, to thrive, evening out the playing field.

So when businesses in Minneapolis cry out that there is no way for them to survive without flexible scheduling  — a little historical perspective is in order. As for city politicians trying to play both sides, there needs to be a moment of reckoning .  Employers sitting in their flexibility boats are feeding workers to the sharks. Will you send us a lifeboat or not? The voters want to know.

But we aren’t waiting for politicians to act. In the next two weeks workers in Minneapolis are taking action to #reclaimourcity.