Walmart’s Women Can’t ‘Save Money’ or ‘Live Better’ with Wages and Hours Like This

by Sarah Jaffe

ourwalmart_jaffe(June 4) Walmart, the world’s largest retailer (and America’s largest private employer), occupies a rather strange place in the business landscape: a technologically innovative company with a down-home reputation – a low-wage, low-benefit employer that prides itself on a family atmosphere. Walmart masks the lousy working conditions that make its profits with its particular form of market populism: millions of “Walmart moms” can’t be wrong for wanting to “save money, live better”, can they?

But Wednesday, as the company’s shareholders prepare to meet in Bentonville, Arkansas,  a bunch of Walmart moms are aiming at the company’s already-shaky public perception. According to the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (Our Walmart), mothers who work at Walmart stores in more than 20 cities nationwide  are on strike. They’re taking a common media trope and a  key part of the company’s own public image and turning it on its head: Walmart, they say, is not a good place for mothers.

It’s not just the low wages (although a raise wouldn’t hurt):  a new study out this week from the non-partisan think tank Demos  highlights more than just the difference a raise to $25,000 a year would make for Walmart’s workers and others in the retail sector. Amy Traub at Demos looked at the effects of erratic scheduling – specifically on women who hold the majority of low-wage jobs in the sector – and concluded:

The impact of scheduling can be profound: without a stable and predictable work schedule, incomes fluctuate and workers cannot budget effectively.

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Walmart Moms’ Walkout Starts Friday

by Sarah Jaffe

For years, Walmart workers have protested the company's low wages and unfair treatment of employees. This Friday, a week before the company's shareholders meet, hundreds of 'Walmart Moms' will begin walking off the job. (OUR Walmart)

For years, Walmart workers have protested the company’s low wages and unfair treatment of employees. This Friday, a week before the company’s shareholders meet, hundreds of ‘Walmart Moms’ will begin walking off the job. (OUR Walmart)

For years, Walmart workers have protested the company’s low wages and unfair treatment of employees. This Friday, a week before the company’s shareholders meet, hundreds of ‘Walmart Moms’ will begin walking off the job. (OUR Walmart)

In 2008, political commentators made a lot of fuss about “Walmart Moms,” a demographic that was supposedly key to the election. The Walmart Mom was an updated, service-economy version of the blue-collar worker: Someone without a college degree, working and raising a family, usually white, possibly religious. She was courted heavily by both parties and perceived, at least in recent decades, to be swinging right.

Six years later, the real-life Walmart Moms are going on strike. According to a Thursday conference call hosted by the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart), hundreds of mothers who work at Walmart stores throughout the country will begin walking off the job on Friday, a week before the company’s shareholders meet in Bentonville, Arkansas. The action will culminate in a nationwide strike on Wednesday, June 4.

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A Cloward-Piven Strategy for Labor?

by Street Heat

Since the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act, a key question facing the U.S labor movement has been how to pass pro-worker legislation that expands on workers’ right to organize and bargain collectively. From the post-PATCO effort to ban permanent replacements to the more recent effort to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, labor legislative efforts have been stymied by intransigent opponents and reliance on less than reliable allies, and of course too few reliable allies.

For whatever reason, these campaigns at legislative reforms have always taken a more traditional path than other more confrontational models utilized historically by both the early labor movement that successfully helped pass the National Labor Relations Act and other progressive constituencies such as the civil rights movement in the 60’s and the contemporary immigrant rights movement. This often means traditional lobbying supplemented by sporadic press conferences, testimonials by workers to elected officials and some attempt at getting the legislation to gain traction in the media. Continue reading

New Report on Worker Retaliation at Walmart 2011-3-31 20-7-48American Rights at Work/Jobs with Justice has released a white paper detailing Walmart’s extensive and systematic efforts to silence associates who speak out for better jobs. The paper features the stories of workers like Cindy Lee, a model employee and active OUR Walmart member who reports being fired for calling in sick after she was publicly involved with OUR Walmart last fall. The study also finds that Walmart has escalated efforts to silence associates and community supporters since the historic Black Friday strikes, in part with aggressive and meritless litigation intended to intimidate workers and their supporters from raising their concerns inside or near Walmart stores.

Read the white paper here.

“It’s no secret that many companies come down hard on workers who try to join together for fair pay or improved working conditions,” said Sarita Gupta, Executive Director of American Rights at Work/Jobs with Justice. “But Walmart goes above and beyond what we’ve seen from other employers. Not only does the company attempt to block workers’ collective activity by retaliating against those who speak out, now the company is challenging the First Amendment rights of workers and their supporters with ‘trespass’ lawsuits—pitting workers making poverty-level wages against a company with limitless resources.”

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Apply to Join the 2013 Change Walmart Summer


Deadline to apply: May 17, 2013

This summer, the national movement to make change at Walmart will take a giant step forward. In the tradition of the 1964 Freedom Summer and the UFW’s grape boycott, a deeply committed group of labor, student and community supporters will spend the summer building local OUR Walmart and Making Change at Walmart (MCAW) support teams across the country that demonstrate the broad, growing movement calling on Walmart to change.  The program will run from June 15th – Labor Day.

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What’s Next for Walmart Strikers

Josh Eidelson has written an extremely informative and important feature article for The Nation  “The Great Walmart Walkout.”  He interviews workers, organizers and labor scholars about the Black Friday walkouts.  He includes both skeptical  and optimistic views.

For instance,

“I feel hopeful,” says [Cornell University’s Kate] Bronfenbrenner, “and I haven’t felt hopeful about Walmart workers ever before.” She cites the historic nature of the strikes, the breadth of supply chain organizing and evidence of significant leadership development among workers. “Obviously Walmart is a tough company to crack,” she says. “But Walmart right now is the one that’s off-balance, not the union, not the workers… As long as we have the world’s largest corporation feeling like it’s not quite in control, I think we have a lot to be hopeful about.” She notes that historically, unions have often had to build strength through years of concerted activity, including strikes and incremental improvements in working conditions, before finally winning formal recognition from industry behemoths like General Motors. “Huge national contracts are very hard to get,” says Bronfenbrenner. “But they’ll get there.”

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Walmart’s Exploitation Is Nothing New, So What Made Workers Finally Fight Back?


by Sarah Jaffe

(Nov. 14) Last month, when strikers from Southern California arrived in Bentonville, Ark., to protest Walmart’s labor practices with reggae beats, pots and pans, and a Latin American-inflected protest culture, it became clear to onlookers that America’s superstore was no longer the small family business that Sam Walton had founded and grown in the cradle of the anti-labor culture of Southern evangelicaldom. But it’s also become clear that Walmart’s own ambitions to become a global empire — expanding beyond southern suburbs to new regions, and continuing to erode protections for its workers — have brought the “family values” behemoth into confrontation with another kind of religious and labor rights tradition.

Walmart has long been the Holy Grail for labor organizers. The nation’s largest retailer, it is notorious for its low wages, lack of benefits, abusive labor practices, and for leaving its workers dependent on public assistance while making the Walton family rich beyond imagination. And it has been nearly impossible to organize.

Until now.

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My Chicagoland Black Friday in words and pictures

 by Bob Simpson

As I was writing this blog post on Sunday morning, news came from the Associated Press about the real human cost of our Black Fridays:

“DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — At least 112 people were killed in a fire that raced through a multi-story garment factory just outside of Bangladesh’s capital, an official said Sunday. Bangladesh has some 4,000 garment factories, many without proper safety measures. The country annually earns about $20 billion from exports of garment products, mainly to the United States and Europe. Bangladesh’s garment factories make clothes for brands including Wal-Mart, JC Penney, H&M, Marks & Spencer, Carrefour and Tesco.”

Walmart stocks up on products manufactured under deadly sweatshop conditions. It organizes Black Friday sales knowing they can touch off riots in their stores. Then Walmart sends security guards and police after peaceful demonstrators who only seek justice in the global workplace. Who said irony is dead?

I didn’t hear of any Black Friday shopper nastiness in Chicagoland, but there were a number of peaceful demonstrations against Walmart and other retailers who exploit and abuse their own employees and supply chain workers around the world.

My Black Friday began at around 4:30 am with a drive from my home in Oak Park to Bedford Park, a suburb south of Midway Airport. The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) had rented a hotel meeting room there as a staging area for Walmart protestors, plus buses to carry them to several Chicagoland Walmart stores and eventually to downtown to support food and retail workers there.

It was dark and deserted within the complex of hotels, but when I found the yellow school buses, I knew I was in the right place. Once in the lobby, a UFCW staffer saw me  and guided me to their meeting room where staff people were already giving away lime-green Our Walmart tee shirts, buttons and signs. About 30 people were there drinking coffee and munching on donuts.