(Hotflashcarol pulled the following Boots Riley video due to concern trolling by an FDL member; you can read Riley’s email interview (including his reason for the guillotine metaphor), with Wired.com/underwire here.) Thanks, hfc; thanks, Boots, et.al. It’s brilliant!)
Last week I told you about the striking Walmart Warehouse Workers United in Elwood, IL and Mira Loma, walking off their jobs at various warehouses in the Walmart contract supply chain. Worker complaints of inhumane working conditions unfair labor practices had gone unanswered, and when management retaliated for their complaints, some of them walked out. The Mira Loma workers went back in after Walmart promised them some measure of relief. We’ll see how that goes.
But on the heels of the bravery they displayed, Walmart retail associates have begun to strike. On Oct. 9 retail workers walked off the job at stores in Dallas, Texas; Miami, Florida; Seattle, Washington; Laurel, Maryland; and Northern, Central, and Southern California.
Now this could end up being a game changer, especially if the strikes spread, and more workers and citizens act in solidarity with them. Their numbers are understandably low for now, given that the Walmart Corporate Machine is stacked against them. Many must be terrified about losing their jobs, even though their pay is minimal, their benefits often non-existent, as many employees are kept just under forty hours a week so that Walmart doesn’t have to offer benefits.
But OUR Walmart members (Organization United for Respect at Walmart) are feeling their oats; something is indeed in the air for worker empowerment, both globally, of course, but spreading to the States. Walmart workers, of course, are not unionized, nor are the Warehouse Workers United members, but both are being advised by the United Food and Commercial Workers union as to the steps they might take toward forming unions. Clearly, Walmart would rather close stores than allow that to happen. One labor historian advised that workers would have greater success staging intermittent walkouts than ongoing ones that might cause store closures. His theory was that the corporation could wait for some months, then reopen with a whole new workforce that would be too afraid to complain.
At this point, striking workers demands are certainly minimal: improved staffing and benefits as well as an end to alleged retaliation against its members. We can hope they increase with success.
Josh Edelson at Salon has been covering the story, and interviewed Dorian Warren who is writing a book on Walmart; Warren said that considering that labor law says that Walmart would be entitled to replace striking workers unless the government agrees with OUR Walmart that the strikers are motivated by alleged crimes by management, then it would be illegal for Walmart to “permanently replace” them. Tricky business for strikers and potential strikers, iow.
Eidelson quotes Warren with this salient point:
“Professor Warren predicted that public relations concerns would be “infinitely more important” than the law in dictating Walmart’s response to strikes. Given that retaliation against strikers is more likely to draw attention, said Warren, “the gamble is, it could either send a signal that if anybody else tries this you’re going to get fired. Or it could actually end up pissing off more workers who would then be willing to take collective action. So that’s actually their dilemma right now, because their normal response is just retaliation, to fire workers.”
From OUR Walmart Dallas (a great piece):
“As front line Walmart workers are facing these hardships, the company is raking in almost $16 billion a year in profits, executives made more than $10 million each in compensation last year. Meanwhile, the Walton Family – heirs to the Walmart fortune – are the richest family in the country with more wealth than the bottom 42% of American families combined.
Energy around the calls for Walmart to change its treatment of workers and communities has been building. In just one year, OUR Walmart, the unique workers’ organization founded by Walmart Associates, has grown from a group of 100 Walmart workers to an army of thousands of Associates in hundreds of stores across 43 states. Together, OUR Walmart members have been leading the way in calling for an end to double standards that are hurting workers, communities and our economy.
The alleged Mexican bribery scandal, uncovered by the New York Times*, has shined a light on the failure of internal controls within Walmart that extend to significant breaches of compliance in stores and along the company’s supply chain. The company is facing yet another gender discrimination lawsuit on behalf of 100,000 women in California and in Tennessee. In the company’s warehousing system, in which Walmart has continually denied responsibility for the working conditions for tens of thousands of people who work for warehouses where they move billions of dollars of goods, workers are facing rampant wage theft and health and safety violations so extreme that they have led to an unprecedented $600,000 in fines. The Department of Labor fined a Walmart seafood supplier for wage and hour violations, and Human Rights Watch has spoken out about the failures of controls in regulating suppliers overseas, including a seafood supplier in Thailand where trafficking and debt bondage were cited.”
Colby Harris in Dallas, who makes under $9 an hour after working for Walmart for three years, has been quoted as saying that unless Rob Walton answers worker demands.
“We will make sure that Black Friday is memorable for them.” He said that would includes strikes, leafleting to customers, and “flash mobs.” Harris was joined on a press call announcing the deadline by leaders of the National Consumers League, the National Organization of Women, and the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, three of the national organizations that have pledged support for the workers’ efforts. Absent a resolution, said NOW President Terri O’Neill, NOW members will join Walmart workers outside stores on Black Friday to ask customers “whether they really want to spend their dollars on a company that treats workers this way.”
You can sign their declaration here. Better yet, if you live in the cities where strikes are happening, join them. Most of you likely already boycott the stores, while for some of us…it’s the only place left to buy some items since its appearance hastens the closing of so many main street stores in small towns.
Matt Stoller has a good piece up at Naked Capitalism in which he shows the massive leverage they hold over other companies that supply them, and the several they’ve forced into hostile takeovers by Walmart. If I remember correctly, he also demonstrates some of the external costs to ‘cheap’ products they sell to ‘keep their customers satisfied’.
[*In April, the New York Times published a piece about Walmart de Mexico verifiably having paid $24 million in bribes to Mexican officials to ensure the gargantuan Walton multinational cornered the market. It’s a stunning narrative in corporate malfeasance being shut down because the foxes were investigating…the other foxes aiding and abetting the slaughterhouse. The quashed investigations were seen as so beneficial to Walmart that some of the people who actually paid the bribes were promoted. So it goes. One in five of Walmart’s stores are in Mexico.]
I hope this makes you crow with glee and your eyes stream tears for the magnificent ‘We got the power!’ demonstrated when these associates brought it to Bentonville’s #1 store during their annual financial analyst meeting at their home base in Arkansas. This was yesterday (Oh, you brave, wonderful and creative folks; we love you!) Feel the rhythm build!