By Mike Andrew
In a series of strikes spreading across several states, and involving hundreds of workers, Walmart employees are taking the initiative against unfair and unsafe working conditions.
The strikes began in June when immigrant “guest workers” shut down Walmart supplier CJ Seafoods in Louisiana. In July, the Department of Labor ruled in favor of the workers, demanding CJ Seafoods pay over $248,000 in back wages, fines, and penalties for wage theft and forced labor.
In September, Southern California warehouse workers walked out and set off on a 50-mile pilgrimage to dramatize issues within Walmart-controlled warehouses. By the end of the month, the strike had spread to warehouses in Illinois. Warehouse workers did not return to work till their employers agree to pay them for the 21 days they were out on strike.
On October 3, Walmart union members from around the world – including Argentina, Brazil, Central America, Chile, India, South Africa, and the United Kingdom, as well as OURWalmart members from the US – met in Los Angeles to form the Global Walmart Alliance.
The next day, more than 70 Walmart workers from Southern California walked out in protest against Walmart’s unfair labor practices in the first multi-store strike in†Walmart’s history. They returned to work the next day without incident.
On October 8, Walmart struck back with threats of legal action against pickets at its stores. In a letter to several UFCW locals and community allies, an attorney for Walmart said the company “reserves the right to pursue appropriate remedies with local law enforcement…”
On October 10, in a National Day of Action against Walmart, hundreds of striking workers converged on Walmart headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, to demand an end to threats of retaliation, and a response to their concerns of unfair, unsafe working conditions.
The Day of Action included a picket line at Walmart headquarters, a flashmob at Walmart’s original store, Walmart #1, and hundreds of actions across the nation by community, and labor allies.
Locally the Making Change at Walmart, Puget Sound coalition, including PSARA, led leafleting and delegations at Walmart stores throughout†our†region. In all, 185 people protested at 23 Walmart stores in a single day.
On October 13, Huffington Post published a leaked Walmart management memo revealing their fear of strikes and Unfair Labor Practice charges resulting from retaliation against strikers.
On October 17, Walmart employees in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, who had not previously been organized by OURWalmart, walked out of their local store with home-made signs protesting cuts in hours.
Walmart workers have promised that if retaliation against striking workers does not end, they will go ahead with another Day of Action on Black Friday, November 24 – the busiest day of the year for retailers.
To date only a small fraction of Walmart’s 1.4 million US employees have gone out on strike. But the work stoppages have been what UFCW campaign director Dan Schlademan calls “a strike of leaders” that promises future action. Each one of the strikers, Schladerman said, will mobilize more of their co-workers for the Black Friday actions.
By walking off the job together, Walmart workers sent a signal about their deep discontent, and – more important – about their capacity for collective action. They have already achieved historic gains in demonstrating their rights to organize and to defend themselves against retaliation by the employer. And they have set the stage for a new round of actions against unfair and unsafe conditions at Walmart.