Rosie the Riveter and the Ironies of Bentonville

When the doors swung open this morning on Alice Walton’s Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas—funded to the tune of $1.4 billion by the Walton Family Foundation—one of its prize possessions was Norman Rockwell’s iconic World War II-era painting of Rosie the Riveter. The painting features a confident, insouciant Rosie on her lunch break, eating a sandwich, with a riveting gun on her lap, a copy of Mein Kampf that she uses as a footstool, and an American flag fluttering in the background.

Given the Walton family’s epic history of mistreating its company’s workers, and its company’s female workers more particularly, the inclusion of Rosie in the permanent collection is almost too ironic for words. Nonetheless (otherwise, this blog post would end right here), a few facts from the annals of Wal-Mart (approximately 48 percent of whose stock is still owned by the Walton family) are in order. Such as the average hourly wage of its 1.4 million American employees being $8.81. Such as its elimination last month of health-care coverage for its part-time workers, and its hiking the health-care premiums for its full-time employees (excuse me, “associates”) next year by between 20 percent and 60 percent. Such as the continuing litigation that Wal-Mart’s women employees are bringing against the company for systemic discrimination. Such as the fact that Alice and three of her siblings occupy four of the top eleven slots in Forbes’ most recent list of the 400 wealthiest Americans. Such as estimates that put the Walton family’s wealth at $93 billion, exceeding that of the Gateses, the Rockefellers, the Koch brothers, or any other American family. Such as the fact that neither Alice nor anyone else from the Waltons has joined the Gates-Warren Buffet initiative in which billionaires pledge sizable portions of their assets to charitable, education or just generally helpful uses. Such as the fact that instead, the Walton Family Foundation has given money to Heritage, Cato, the National Right to Work Foundation, and kindred covens.

Some Wal-Mart workers are using the occasion of today’s museum opening to visit six Occupy Wall Street encampments to talk about their employer’s labor practices. Rosie the Riveter may be in the Walton family’s museum, but if she had a choice, she sure as hell wouldn’t want to work for them.

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