Walmart worker groups may mount Black Friday protests

by Laura Clawson

After walkouts spread to Walmart stores in 12 states Tuesday, one of the groups organizing workers told Steven Greenhouse that they have no intention of stopping:

Mr. Schlademan, director of the union-backed Making Change at Walmart campaign, added that more than 200 employees were traveling to Wal-Mart’s headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., to stage a protest on Wednesday during the company’s annual meeting with financial analysts.He warned that disgruntled Wal-Mart employees, joined by labor unions and community groups, might stage a combined protest and educational campaign the Friday after Thanksgiving, the traditional start of the holiday shopping season.

People lined up waiting to get into stores on Black Friday would make excellent targets for an educational campaign. The activists carrying out the campaign would be removed from the vicinity as quickly as Walmart could manage it, but they might be able to distribute a good bit of literature and have a few quick conversations before that happened. Multiply that by a couple dozen stores, and it at least represents a continuing escalation and broadening of the campaign against Walmart’s abusive practices.

A Walmart spokesman once again insisted that Walmart retail jobs are just fantastic: “We have some of the best jobs in retail. Our full-time average wage is $12.54 an hour, which is $5 above the federal minimum wage.” Note the dodge: That’s the full-time average wage (supposedly). But Walmart won’t say how many of its workers are full-time and how many are part-time, and part-time workers report making far less.

The numbers of workers walking out of their Walmart jobs to protest remain small—88 on Tuesday, 63 at California stores last Thursday, and dozens more at warehouses in Illinois and California. But though their numbers are small in the context of the behemoth that is Walmart, they are doing something Walmart has never before faced, and what they’re doing takes a courage and conviction it’s hard to understand if you’ve never faced the kind of intimidation, oppression, and exploitation they live every day on the job.

Efforts to unionize Walmart workers a store at a time have repeatedly failed and aren’t likely to be successful without major changes in labor law. The new strategy appears to be putting pressure on the company to stop its worst abuses, from wage theft to unsafe working conditions to rampant gender discrimination, and applying that pressure all up and down the supply chain, using government regulators and the courts to address law-breaking and building coalitions between workers, faith and community groups, and consumers. The sad fact is that, at this point, this is a campaign to bring Walmart within the law. And succeeding—just getting it to obey the law—would be a huge step forward.

Laura Clawson is labor editor for Daily Kos, where this post originally appeared.

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2 Responses

  1. Protesters trick police into blocking entrance of Wichita, Kansas Walmart during Black Friday rush. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kNZD8lQUtdY

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