by Jim Nichols
(Nov 24) So I’ve got final papers for class to write so I don’t really have time to do the kind of in-depth structured/well-edited blog post I want to write on yesterday’s historic Walmart strike and the solidarity picket lines held all across the country.
Instead I’m going to throw out some of my thoughts and some of the pictures I shot from yesterday’s action here in Atlanta. Hopefully it’ll come out clear and coherent enough for you.
Pardon my ramble…
As someone who was watching the Occupy Wall Street movement quite closely from right out of the gate I can say that I’m feeling the same level of excitement with what transpired all across the nation yesterday that I felt with Occupy.
I remember sitting at the Occupy Atlanta General Assembly the weekend before OA voted to occupy the park being simply overwhelmed with enthusiasm.
I also remember quite clearly driving back into the suburbs that evening to meet up for dinner with the wife and some friends and being struck with internal confusion about the fact that neither my wife nor friends could really care less, nor quite catch on from my slight pokes and prods about the reasons for my jovial excitement in regards to what was about to blow up here in Atlanta.
I feel a similar sense of excitement about the efforts by employees at Walmart @ForRespect.
The corporate apologists and anti-union minions trying to cheer on the 1% by declaring yesterday to be a defeat for those trying to bring change to Walmart are showing their hand by clearly signalling they don’t understand (or maybe want us to understand) the context of internal organizing in massive bureaucratic global institutions, the history of successful labor organizing, nor the impacts neoliberalism have had (structurally and culturally) on the ability of working people to stand up for themselves and mobilize their coworkers.
Opponents of yesterdays action see symbols of “defeat” from the fact that the number of employee’s didn’t meet their level of expectation. The slave master’s expectation of their slaves capacity to do things like vote responsibly or run for public office weren’t met either but that didn’t mean the slave masters were correct about the human capacities of their “property”. It just meant the slave masters were using the wrong damn metrics for judging the potential of the human beings in front of them.
After I got off my shift at work I headed over to our picket here in Atlanta organized by Jobs with Justice. I’m a Teamster, thats how we roll on Black Friday.
Many customers took our fliers and decided to turn around in support. I can tell you that the thumbs up and smiles from workers driving past our picket headed into work at a local Walmart here in Atlanta tell me that yesterday’s action and the community support that showed up all across this country will inspire more leaders to arise within the ranks of Walmart to start the long hard process of internal organizing. That is huge.
Internal organizing sucks. As a union steward on the pre-load –we are the part timers who load up the big brown trucks early in the morning while you guys sleep–at UPS I deal with it every day. I could go on and on about the the challenges/barriers of communication, the fear of retaliation for speaking up (let alone responding and fighting back) with others about harassment or working conditions, and the sense of futility that comes from the natural and to be expected setbacks and challenges of internal organizing. I could go on and on–and I probably should be doing more blog posting on it because I think its something many outside of the labor movement can’t quite accurately get the pulse of.
But even beyond the challenges of internal organizing I can tell you from my own personal experience that the number of strikers who did walk out is quite impressive. As a union steward I have the single largest collectively bargained contract in the nation at my back when I bring grievances to “the boss”. Despite this, I still find myself in circumstance where I feel intimidation and harassment from supervisors. I still have major problems inspiring coworkers to stand up for themselves–even in circumstances where they can recite explicitly in the contact the violation taking place. Its just not easy.
Shit man, we have to face facts. Telling the boss they are wrong or have screwed up (or even worse that their boss did) is hard
Trying to expose and speak out about the fact that some number cruncher at corporate headquarters has poorly allocated resources leaving everyone in a bind when it comes to safety or production quality is really really hard to do. Often times workers don’t have the education or confidence to articulate their position so they respond in a less than productive manner. But over time people can be taught how to stand up to the nitpicking and excuses management give, the intimidation and harassment. They can be inspired to speak out about what they know to be wrong.
Over time people can learn productive ways to build internal alliance on the shop-floor and overcome the fear and intimidation they have to deal with every day.
I can tell you for every person that walked out yesterday there is someone who was gong to walk out but just didn’t do it–out of fear, frustration that no one else would, or simply not needing the headache. Hell, I can’t blame them. There have been many a day that I threw up my hands, shut my mouth, and did my job when I knew I should be standing up to violations of the contract. You don’t take on a corporation by yourself. Many times you must stand down to fight another day. That’s why yesterday was a major success. All across this nation communities came out to let Walmart workers know they support them and will stand with them.
Yesterday was a major success and a major step in efforts to improve working conditions at Walmart and I can’t wait for the next time @ForRespect asks for community support.
I’ll be there.
What Occupy Wall Street did in real time @ForRespect is going to do for real lives. That sounds pejorative and condescending to those who took and held Zuccotti Park. I don’t intend it to be and I know this broad generalization won’t fit many of those involved in Occupy. But think about it.
In many ways Occupy Wall Street efforts and those of @ForRespect are at opposite ends of the spectrum.
Where Occupy was putting its focus on very abstract questions of debt/high finance @ForRespect is focusing on very basic real world questions of safety, working conditions, and wages.
Where Occupy had a small army of extremely educated young people with time and skill sets bubbling out their ears, sitting together in one specific area, @ForRespect is facing a nation of Walmarts dispersed across the wastelands of the Reagan revolution–where education levels, time able to put into organizing, and skill sets needed to communicate and coordinate alliances are limited.
These challenges cannot be addressed in one Facebook update or 4 hour general assembly debate.
Where Occupy wants a radical revaluation of our entire political and economic system @ForRespect just wants equity. @ForRespect doesn’t want revolution they are just workers within a corporation who want a Walmart that flourishes for everyone rather than just the Walton’s.
In many ways @ForRespect is to the neoliberal era’s Main Street what Occupy is to Wall Street.
What Occupy Wall Street did in real time @ForRespect is going to do for real lives. Sure its gonna take longer… but stay tuned, we haven’t even reached our Brooklyn Bridge moment yet!
Jim Nichols is a proud member of Teamster local 728, and is working on undergraduate degrees in economics and philosophy at GA State. Follow his blog here, where this post first appeared. He also took the great photographs in this post.