American supermarket giant Wal-Mart has an
idiosyncratic approach to trade unions.
Australian retailers have an idiosyncratic approach, too.

A peculiar deal struck many years ago
between the Shoppies union, the SDA, and the big retailers means that every casual in retail ends up in
the union. It’s one closed shop that you never hear a peep out of the
Government about. The Shoppies have done very nicely, too. They’ve opposed
extended trading hours – but the jobs boom they have created now lets the
Shoppies claim that they are “the largest trade union in Australia
with more than 230,000 members”.

The Shoppies’ national secretary, Joe de
Bruyn, is a lion of the Labor right. He’s active in much more than industrial
matters, taking a hard line this week against stem cell research.
Many MPs owe their seats to the Shoppies.

Coles is the nation’s largest private sector
employer. So what happens if Wal-Mart buys in? What will the dynamics for Labor

And it won’t just be the bruvvers watching
closely. Just last month the Minister
for Local Government, Territories and Roads, Jim Lloyd, got very antsy over the
closure of a Coles distribution centre in his electorate.
The Government dished out employment assistance of up to $4,000 to help sacked
workers find new jobs, while local employers who took them were eligible to
wage subsidies of up to $1,960. That in a relatively safe seat. It’s a very
awkward precedent.