Walmart encounters worker activism
By Elena Perez, Coordinator, Making Change at Walmart, Puget Sound Coalition & a PSARA member
Walmart intended 2012 to be an epic celebration of its 50th anniversary. It ended up as a year of indictment, with scandals and strikes highlighting five decades of Walmart running roughshod over workers’ rights and community laws and standards.
Several hard-fought years of organizing, education and mobilization led to this year’s historic successes. However, the achievements of 2012 must be seen as part of a long-term movement to fundamentally change the way the world’s largest employer does business. Clearly not an easy task, but one of great importance to the future of the American economy.
Less than two years ago, in 2010, the Making Change at Walmart, Puget Sound coalition was founded, along with a local chapter of the new independent workers’ association called OUR Walmart–Organization United for Respect at Walmart. Our coalition has now grown to over two dozen local organizations, including PSARA, and we are determined to challenge Walmart’s expansion in Puget Sound and support local workers’ demands for respect and a voice in their workplace.
Some of this year’s achievements of the Puget Sound coalition:
- We stopped Seattle from adopting lower environmental standards that would have eased Walmart’s entry into city neighborhoods.
- We stopped a King County process aimed at creating a new I-90 retail zone that would have set a precedent for runaway suburban big box development and opened the door to Walmart.
- We kept a Walmart out of the South King County neighborhood of Skyway.
- We put a spotlight on Promenade 23’s developer, Weingarten Realty, for considering replacing a locally-owned union grocer with Walmart.
- We mobilized hundreds of allies to support local Walmart workers as they took action throughout the year.
OUR Walmart – Puget Sound had a momentous year, including:
- Well-established, active membership at 25% of local stores in over 5 counties…and growing!
- Relentless activism that has overturned unfair discipline and scheduling, addressed serious safety hazards, and spread their message to other workers that they, too, can have a voice at work through OUR Walmart.
- Participating in local and national events to challenge Walmart, including: U.N. Responsible Investment meeting in Brazil; Walmart shareholders meeting in Bentonville; TPP Protest in Blaine; WSLC annual conference; and more.
- For the first time in its history, Walmart faced national Black Friday strikes. Local workers engaged in multiple strikes, with every worker returning to work without incident.
Walmart workers still fear retaliation, but this year has demonstrated they can work through fear, act, and emerge stronger. The coalition has grown in number and breadth of leadership. We are better prepared to challenge Walmart’s expansion attempts in our region– especially its new small-footprint tool for penetrating urban centers, the “Neighborhood Market.”
Another notable development is Making Change at Walmart going global. Ongoing investigations of alleged bribery and corruption by Walmart in five different countries, and its role in opposing attempts in Bangladesh to improve fire safety in garment factories highlight the need for us to work together with unions and workers around the world. In October, we launched the UNI Global Union Walmart Alliance, an international network of Walmart workers pledging solidarity to change Walmart.