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All-Star Panel: Labor protests greet Black Friday shoppers

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," November 23, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REV. EDWIN JONES, LIVING FAITH BAPTIST CHURCH: We're here today to say that we support and we're going to continue to encourage them until their satisfactions, their demands have been met. And if they're not met then we will be returning back here again.

BOBBY WILLIAMS, WAL-MART STORE MANAGER: Yes sir -- we're at this point, I'm going to have to -- I appreciate your concern for our associates, but we'll take care of that matter. I'm going to have to ask the guys to please be on the other side of the property. What you guys are doing right now is kind of unlawful.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHANNON BREAM, ANCHOR: That's a little bit of a showdown today at Walmart and the workers and different folks who were behind organizing and trying to organize some protests, which happened in some places today for Walmart. Let's talk about it with our panel. Chuck, I'll start with you. 1.4 million workers at Walmart, and it didn't seem like a whole lot of them actually walked out today.

CHARLES LANE, EDITORIAL WRITER, WASHINGTON POST: No. I think they were busy working. And let's face it, they aren't extremely highly paid. The average associate gets about $14 an hour. But in this economy, that kind of a job is better than no job at all, which unfortunately for many people is the alternative.

There really isn't going to be any kind of sea change in wages and working conditions at Walmart until the overall economy picks up and people with those kinds of skills acquire a little more bargaining power. I don't think that the UFCW – or sorry -- the union UFCW that's really behind all of these protests is the wave of the future at Walmart either. They have been at this a long time. This is not the first time they've tried to campaign like this and it never seems to really get anywhere. I think they're just trying to generate some publicity, and the mere fact that we're talking about it shows that they've succeeded in that. 

BREAM: Vice President for Corporate Communications at Walmart David Tovar said, "the number of protesting reported by the UFCW are grossly exaggerated. We are aware of a few dozen protests at our stores today.  The number of associates that have missed their scheduled shift today is more than 60 percent less than Black Friday last year." And Walmart also publicly putting a very happy face on it, saying, Charles, it's been their best Black Friday ever.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Look, I think this is a lot of hype. I kind of like the way the manager stepped out and said that this is, you're sort of unlawful. And you know, that means --

BREAM: A gray area on Black Friday.

KRAUTHAMMER: This isn't exactly the miner's strike, you know, and in the 1890's where the Pinkertons come out and shoot people. So I think we've progressed in relations between management and union.

Look, I don't think this is a big deal. It's a publicity stunt, not a lot of people turned up. I don't think it's going to have any influence in the future. I think it's a shopping story and it will be gone by Monday.

BREAM: What do you think about the fact that the NLRB Walmart had filed an emergency -- urgent filing with them last Friday because it was coming this Black Friday, NLRB basically today sent us an e-mail and sent a statement out saying we may have a decision next week.

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I think President Obama's NLRB likes to take it's time especially when the appeal for an urgent decision –

BREAM: Likes to be thorough.

KRISTOL: -- comes from the employer's side. But what does strike me is that here you have a huge employer – I think Walmart is the largest private sector in the country --

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: One of the largest private sector employers period. 1.3 million employees, not unionized at all. I mean if you would have said this 30 years ago looking at America -- not unionized at all, no real prospect of being unionized, I would say – most turn out 400 people at one or two locations to complain, I mean, it really shows how much private sector unionization for better or worse has declined. I mean, what 35 percent, 40 percent of American private sector workers were unionized, I think 30 or 40 years ago, and now it's what seven percent, something like that.

I don't think that's -- well for better or worse, I think it's mostly for better, I think Walmart is the wave of the future and unionizing the Walmart workers is not. 

KRAUTHAMMER: And it's a reflection of what has happened in the private sector unions in the global economy. The unions were able to flourish at a time when the economy wasn't a global one, but today the only unions that are developing and growing are the public sector unions because the government's a monopoly so you don't have competition, you can ratchet up wages indefinitely until a state like Wisconsin is on the edge of bankruptcy. But that's why the growth is in the public sector, which I think this year for the first time eclipsed the private sector unions in size. But in the private sector union (INAUDIBLE), as we saw, for instance in the auto industry, it leads you to bankruptcy if you're in a world economy where you're getting wages way out of line with the product.

BREAM: Well, and today being Black Friday, a lot of the retailers sound encouraged. Check -- the stocks indexes were up one of their best weeks of the year, a lot of retailers say their stores are busier than ever before. So maybe some consumer confidence and an economic bounce back this holiday season?

LANE: It seems like there's been a little bit of gradual healing, particularly in the housing market – I was looking over some numbers today. The average household leverage, you know, the indebtedness of the household sector in the U.S. economy is almost back to the normal levels prior to the bubble, which means that households are a little bit freer to spend than they were. They're not all the way back. And so, I think, you know, be interesting to see this holiday season how we do fair. Obviously, the economy, 70 percent of consumer spending, a lot of jobs hinge on that.

BREAM: Well, how much Bill, do you think that the re-election of the current administration and their promises to continue to build on what they view as their success so far, builds consumer confidence when people think, OK we know who we have for the next four years, there is a little bit of confidence in knowing what we have?

KRISTOL: Well, that might be. It might be that the U.S. economy is just a pretty strong entity and it can survive quite a number of regulations and some tax increases, too. And it is probably true -- whatever happens in the short term, if they've actually got a deal next year that reassured people that we're dealing more or less with the big entitlement problem and the tax hikes weren't going to be so great as to cripple the economy. And if people believed the regulatory approach of the Obama administration in the second term weren't too great. There is a lot of pent up demand. This remains an economy, in my view, ready to take off, and it's really a question of how much, honestly, the Obama administration is going to burden that economy and make it hard to take off, I think.

BREAM: Final word, Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: Like on Egypt, I'll be the skunk at the picnic. It seems to me every year at the end of today we hear anecdotal reports about how stuff is flying off the shelves and the consumers are out there. And when it's all over, you get the revised numbers and it's either down or flat. So, on that dismal note, I'll wish everybody a happy holiday.

BREAM: You are our favorite skunk though. There has to be a skunk. Thank you, panel. Stay tuned. With Thanksgiving now in the books, many of you moved on to putting up your Christmas tree and other holiday decorations. A reminder about just how dangerous that can be, next.

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