Saving Our Unions: Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win?

Steve Early

Steve Early

Any review of the recent ups and downs of U.S. labor must start in Michigan, long a bastion of blue-collar unionism rooted in car manufacturing. Fifteen months ago, this Midwestern industrial state became another notch in the belt of the National Right to Work Committee, joining the not-very-desirable company of Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama, and twenty other “open shop” states.

The emergence of sun-belt labor relations in the birthplace of the United Auto Workers (UAW) was shocking to some. But this political setback was preceded by high-profile defeats in neighboring states that began in 2005. First Indiana, followed by Wisconsin and Ohio, stripped public workers of their bargaining rights (although the Republican attack on government employees was later repelled by popular referendum in the Buckeye State). Then in early 2012, GOP legislators in Indiana passed a right-to-work law applicable to private industry. It banned any further negotiation of labor-management agreements that compelled workers to make a financial contribution to the cost of union representation, in established bargaining units or newly organized ones.1

In November 2012, organized labor tried to buck the emerging anti-union trend with two ballot questions designed to strengthen public-sector bargaining rights in Michigan. Despite the expenditure of many millions of dollars by affiliates of the AFL-CIO and Change To Win, both measures were defeated.2 In its lame-duck session just a few weeks later, GOP legislators in Lansing took retaliatory aim at union security in Michigan’s private sector. When the region’s latest “right to work” bill landed on his desk, Republican Governor Rick Snyder was most pleased to sign it into law. Continue reading

How Walmart Organizers Turned the Internet Into a Shop Floor

Walmart workers and organizers prove ‘clicktivism’ can evolve into offline activism.

by  Sarah Jaffe

 

walmart_strikers_social_media_our_make_change_facebook_twitter_clicktivism.jpg The basic tools of labor organizing haven’t changed in hundreds of years. There’s no substitute for face-to-face conversations about working conditions and what can be done to change them. Organizers still make home visits, and workers still talk to one another in the break room or the parking lot.

But in the new wave of low-wage worker organizing that has swept the country in the past two years, some labor groups have begun to use the Internet to facilitate the kinds of personal conversations that lead to workplace action. As unions, community organizations, workers centers and even “netroots” groups like MoveOn.org pour resources into organizing a massive, diffuse fast-food and retail workforce that had often been written off as unorganizable, the web has provided a cheap, effective tool to reach low-wage workers in ways that are both personal and lasting. In particular, the United Food and Commercial Workers-backed groups OUR Walmart and Making Change at Walmart have enthusiastically experimented with web tools in their recent efforts to make a difference at the nation’s biggest retailer. Continue reading

Black Friday Actions Empower Wal-Mart Workers

Wal-Mart touts a caring culture. Now, its workers are caring for each other by speaking out.

by  Sarah Jaffe

Colby Harris, a Texas Wal-Mart worker fired after striking, traveled to New Jersey to inspire other Wal-Mart workers at a November 29 'Black Friday' action. (Sarah Jaffe)

Colby Harris, a Texas Wal-Mart worker fired after striking, traveled to New Jersey to inspire other Wal-Mart workers at a November 29 ‘Black Friday’ action. (Sarah Jaffe)

‘When I saw the food bins in Ohio, it made me think, “Employees are not just hungry on Thanksgiving, they’re hungry every day because they’re getting paid low wages,” ‘ says Tiffany Beroid, a worker at a Wal-Mart in Laurel, Md.

“I’ve come today to represent all the silent Wal-Mart workers that are afraid to stand up for their rights,” Elaine Rozier, a Wal-Mart employee of eight years, told a crowd of about 150 labor activists and community supporters—accompanied by raucous musicians with Occupy Guitarmy and the Rude Mechanical Orchestra—on Friday in Secaucus, N.J., across the street from a well-guarded Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club (the wholesale club owned by Wal-Mart and named for the company’s celebrated founder, Sam Walton). “I’m standing up for my rights, my kids, my grandkids, and their kids,” Rozier said.

Perhaps because of the fear she mentioned, Rozier, who comes from Miami, was one of the only identified Wal-Mart employees in the crowd. Along with Mark Bowers and Colby Harris, two Wal-Mart workers from Texas, Rozier traveled to New Jersey for Black Friday, Wal-Mart’s biggest retail sales day, to demonstrate to the workers inside the Secaucus store that they, too, could stand up for their rights.

Accompanied by ten supporters, the three workers blocked traffic on the street alongside the Wal-Mart, chanting, singing and clapping until police took them away in handcuffs.

The protest was one of hundreds of Black Friday actions organized by OUR Walmart, a United Food and Commercial Workers-backed group of Wal-Mart workers—including Rozier, Bowers and Harris—that has been putting on strikes, protests, and direct actions at Wal-Mart for over a year in support of better wages, benefits and conditions. The first wave of strikes hit in October of 2012, and on Black Friday of that year, some 400 workers reportedly went on strike at stores around the country.

“Stand up, live better” has become the rallying cry of the movement, a twist on the retail giant’s own slogan, “Save money, live better.” On Friday, workers in Secaucus repeatedly echoed the “stand up” line. Continue reading

Since Black Friday, I No Longer Worry About NSA Surveillance

by Barbara Garson

Walmart's neo-Pinkertons  monitoring a  Black Friday protest

Walmart’s neo-Pinkertons monitoring a
Black Friday protest

I took part in one of the 1500 Walmart protests this past Black Friday. It gave me a new perspective on NSA Surveillance.

Well before noon my husband and I were sitting on a sunny bench in front of the Secaucus, NJ, Walmart. To the Walmart security agents, conferring with groups of Hudson County Sheriff’s officers, we must have looked like the silver haired elderly couple that we are. They didn’t seem to realize that we, like they, were waiting for the demonstrators.

“Some of these demonstrators want to get hit by a cop,” a young security man said. Perhaps he was only currying favor with the “real” cops when he assured them that if such a thing occurred that day, no one would later find those pictures on any Walmart surveillance camera. [At the risk of ruining the suspense, nothing remotely like that happened.] Continue reading

Thursday Civil Disobedience at Los Angles Walmart as Worker Actions Resume

On Thursday, November 7 at 5:00pm 100 women and men of  conscience will commit an act of non-violent civil disobedience sitting down at Walmart in Chinatown (at the intersection of Cesar Chavez Ave and Grand).
La_walmart_nov7

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Why California Taxpayers Should Support the Wal-Mart Strikers

by John Logan

(June6) Last week, non-union Wal-Mart employees began the first “prolonged” strike in the 50-year history of the nation’s largest employer. Last October and November, Wal-Mart employees across the country participated in a series of one-day strikes and walkouts against the company in support of a minimum $13 per hour wage, more predictable scheduling and an end to management retaliation against employees who speak up at work. Wal-Mart has grown accustomed to isolated protests in the past, but has always believed that they would quickly die out, given workers’ understandable fear of management retaliation. But this time it may be different. Wal-Mart workers in California, Florida, Massachusetts, Washington and elsewhere are striking this week for more full-time jobs, a minimum wage of $25,000 per year, improved working conditions, better health and pension benefits and basic respect on the job. Other protesting Wal-Mart workers from across the country will participate in a week-long “Ride for Respect,” joining the strikers as they head for a national day of action at the company’s AGM in Bentonville, Arkansas on June 7.

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Trumka’s Turn Around Proposal

by Kas Schwerdtfeger

Kas Schwerdtfeger

Kas Schwerdtfeger

Admitting you have a problem is the first step.  Finding the way to beat it is next.

Taking an honest look at the labor movement, it doesn’t take a genius to find it at a low that hasn’t been seen since the early thirties.  Unions are taking a beating from politicians, who rather than taxing the ultra wealthy, take the “easier” road of demanding cuts on government workers.  At the same time, private sector employers scrape more and more from the workers in order to maintain massive profits.  No-strike agreements and open shop clauses in the private sector, and right-to-work legislation and restrictions on collective bargaining in the public sector, strike right at the heart of what’s left of organized labor’s gains.  In that sense, I applaud the public statements of President Richard Trumka and the AFL-CIO in their recent meetings that recognize the fact that labor needs to change course in the US.

Changing course is not only the right thing to do; it has become necessary.   According to the March 3rd In These Times article, the new AFL-CIO plan is searching for “new forms of worker representation,” including Working America, Workers Centers, and a general low-wage worker campaign at Wal-Mart and in the general service industry.  It is a mixing bowl of good and bad ingredients. The approach labor takes with the ingredients will determine if what comes out is any good. Continue reading

Walmart’s squeeze on worker hours leaves shelves bare and customers unhappy

by Laura Clawson

Walmart_2_croppedWhile Walmart has added 455 stores in the past five years, it has cut its workforce by about 20,000. Workers complain that they’re too short-staffed to move products from the stockrooms to the aisles, while customers complain that they can’t find basic goods, leading some to shop at competitors. Diarist FishOutofWater highlights a contrast with a competitor that’s taken a very different approach to its workers:

Costco’s CEO recently argued to raise the minimum wage, but Walmart management is attempting to keep labor costs at rock bottom levels. Apparently Walmart’s efforts to minimize labor costs are backfiring. Costco’s better paid employees are happier and more productive. Higher worker productivity at Costco is making up for the difference in wage rates.x

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Thoughts Since Black Friday

by Street Heat

Walmart (3)I participated in the Black Friday action. No workers struck at my location but dozens of supporters held a spirited and effective action that a) received really good media attention that highlighted the demands of the Wal-Mart associates and b) successfully rattled the cage of store management. All in all a fun day. Nationally the picture was much more varied from strikes with dozens of strikers and hundreds of supporters to a single supporter or striker (yes one striker) picketing a store by themselves. I wanted to share some thoughts on the implications of the Black Friday strike and protests.

  • The strike was a successful escalation. The number of workers participating increased. A new layer of leaders seems to have stepped up since the earlier strikes. A broad spectrum of allies showed up to support the workers. Wal-Mart desperately tried to dismiss the actions as tiny and irrelevant. The key was to for OURWalmart to successfully show thatWalmarts intimidation campaign had not pushed the Associates back, in fact that new additional leaders stepped forward to carry out this series of strikes showed the capacity or OURWalmart to grow despite management’s campaign.
  • The strike was a watershed moment for labor. Not because any Wal-Marts were shut down or not, but because WalMart’s image as a benevolent employer has been effectively challenged in American public discourse. Illustrated by John Stewart on the November 27 Daily Show

JS_WMemployeestrikeback

   [To watch the John Stewart segment, click here.]

The degree to which the strikers and the supporters were portrayed as leading a just fight by many media outlets was a critical blow to anti-worker PR in general.

  • The notion that changing Wal-Mart was key to change America and creating a new economy is now firmly established among American progressives. Before there was tepid support among many liberals who perceived the Wal-Mart struggle as just another union “pet issue”. It is now common wisdom among the progressive blogosphere and academia that Wal-Mart’s role in the supply chain is a key roadblock to economic justice for ALL workers.
  • This is where I piss people off. I was disappointed when I noticed that a broad swath of the labor movement sat out the Black Friday action. I was mortified to find out that some large UFCW locals opted to not build or participate in actions. The more this campaign is seen as simply a project of the UFCW International by local UFCW unions, the more difficult it is going to be to build the grassroots infrastructure needed to expand the campaign. The active support and participation UFCW local unions and the full support of labor councils and other labor organizations are key to generating community support and protection  for the OURWalmart activists that will give them the much needed “breathing space” to continue to organize and grow. Bureacratic abstention, Grudges and petty divisions blocking particpation in these HISTORIC actions are the equivalent of high treason in the moment of both peril and opportunity for our entire movement.

There I said it. Let me have it.

Street Heat is a a union activist in the south, He blogs at It’s About Power Stupid! Thinking Strategically About Labor’s Survival,

What Occupy Wall Street did in real time @ForRespect is going to do for real lives.

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.

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