Wal-Mart is America's biggest employer. It's also one of its most anti-union, and has worked hard to stop workers from organizing. In 2000, “when a small meatcutting department successfully organized a union at a Walmart store in Texas, Wal-Mart responded a week later by announcing the phase-out of its meatcutting departments entirely.” When a branch in Quebec, Canada, voted to unionize, the company immediately shut down the store.
But you can't keep workers down forever. Josh Eidelson at Salon reports about a huge wave of one-day strikes that have hit Wal-Mart stores and suppliers nationwide:
For the second time in five days – and also the second time in Walmart’s five decades – workers at multiple US Walmart stores are on strike. This morning, workers walked off the job in Dallas, Texas and Laurel, Maryland; Walmart store workers in additional cities are expected to join the strike in the coming hours. No end date has been announced; some plan to remain on strike at least through tomorrow, when they’ll join other Walmart workers for a demonstration outside the company’s annual investor meeting in Bentonville, Arkansas. Today’s is the latest in a unprecedented wave of Walmart supply chain strikes: From shrimp workers in Louisiana, to warehouse workers in California and Illinois, to Walmart store employees in three states – and counting.
“A lot of associates, we have to use somewhat of a buddy system,” Dallas worker Colby Harris said last night. “We loan each other money during non-paycheck weeks just to make it through to the next week when we get paid. Because we don’t have enough money after paying bills to even eat lunch.” Harris, who’s now on strike, said that after three years at Walmart, he makes $8.90 an hour in the produce department, and workers at his store have faced “constant retaliation” for speaking up.
The strikes, which began last Thursday, are being spearheaded by a year-old organization called OUR Walmart, which was set up by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union. These work stoppages are aimed at winning better job security and benefits, and so far none of these workers have gone the further step of organizing as a formal union.
"I'm striking because I was retaliated against for speaking out," said one Los Angeles Wal-Mart employee, Monique Velasquez, who had her hours cut from 30 a week to eight after the company discovered that she was involved in OUR Walmart activities.
These historic work stoppages and strikes may seem small, but they are the first major labor actions in Wal-Mart's half-century long history. Let's hope they succeed in forcing this corporate behemoth to take worker demands seriously.