German Retail Chains Expand in the USA
From my Writing Room
Copyright © 2022 by Uwe Bahr
Aldi in Blairsville (North Georgia) has supposedly been in the planning stages since 2019, long before the energy crisis in Europe began. However, German public TV channels recently reported that the German discounter is reducing the opening hours of its stores in its country of origin due to exorbitant increases in energy costs. Looking at America, however, it is extremely striking to see how many German grocery stores are currently being built in the comparatively poor south of the USA, and I would not like to know how many Aldi’s and Lidl’s are closing their doors forever in Germany in return. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find any details on this so far.
It is not only the lower energy prices and taxes that make the USA so popular as an industrial location. Above all, the absence of a balanced collective bargaining system and the widespread absence of trade unions, especially in the southern United States, mean that companies find extremely favorable conditions for maximum profits – not least because they are largely free to determine the welfare of their employees at any time.
In the eight years I worked for Walmart, I was told more than once, “Just to be clear – the word ‘union’ does not exist in our store. We handle our problems internally.” – I didn’t take that very seriously at the time, especially since I had classified unions in Germany as extortionists anyway. That may have been true for Germany 30 years ago – but there, and even more so in the U.S. with its neoliberal economic system, I think unions are indispensable today to ensure workers’ rights.
I literally experienced firsthand how important this is. For a double hernia I contracted while working at Walmart, I had to pay part of the medical bills out of pocket, even though I was covered by health insurance – a higher four-digit sum that would have taken me years to pay under my circumstances in the U.S. at the time. Instead, I was able to pay the bill immediately with funds generated not in the U.S. but in my home country.
Those who have the favor of circumstance on their side are fortunate not to have to earn a living from lower- or middle-income sources in an area like North Georgia. The neighborhood occasionally reminds the outside observer of a Third World country, or someone like me of living conditions experienced in the former Eastern Bloc during the Cold War. This is also something I would not have thought possible in my earlier notions about the USA, long before I moved here. I say this not with condescending intent, but because this is my inevitable assessment after almost 12 years.
So far, every worker in Germany has been spared an experience like mine as a Walmart employee, since such treatment would still be classified illegal in Western Europe – but I don’t want to sign off on that statement much longer. Who knows how things will develop in my home country in these uncertain times. Sanctions against other countries come back as a boomerang, that’s nothing new either. The ongoing neoliberal globalization and the urge of the West, led by the USA, to impose its will on others without paying consideration to their security interests makes me worry about the future. In Germany, too, there are more and more people who do not know how to pay their energy or grocery bills despite government assistance. The state cannot always lend a helping hand, especially in view of the dangerous scale of the current energy crisis in Europe, especially in Germany.
In addition, politicians who are no longer recognizable in their statements, make the horror even greater. Those who, like German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, say that all negotiating options (with Russia) have been exhausted and the peace dividend has been used up for Germany, possibly hope for victory in war. Yet weapons and wars do not create peace in the long run; they are rather the basis for open accounts and feuds to flare up again. To be sure, folks who call themselves Christians understand this even better than I do. The history of the 20th century alone knows countless examples, and today’s Americans should be more aware than others from their recent history of the futility of the wars they have waged against other countries in other parts of the world. And as far as Ukraine is concerned, sooner or later there will be negotiations with Russia – with or without Putin.
My home country has joined the prevailing world opinion that Russia embodies evil. We Germans have already heard this many times in our history, and it has led to nothing good. A less perceived influence leading to misperceptions occasionally came from the opposite side. For anyone who kept their eyes open in Germany in the 1990s and did not hold a very uncritical, very pro-American opinion, as I did, could already see the German future through the images from the USA as if through a burning glass. Almost everything that sooner or later spilled over from America to Europe was euphorically adopted and copied there as the latest trend – from lifestyle, music, clothing, fast food, shrill sounds and drugs to the conspiracy theories and Trumpism that began their triumphal march from the USA.