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PORTSIDE  November 2012, Week 3

PORTSIDE November 2012, Week 3

Subject:

Walmart Workers Organize for Massive Black Friday Strike

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Date:

Tue, 20 Nov 2012 22:09:22 -0500

Content-Type:

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text/plain (169 lines)

Taking on a Giant: Walmart Workers Organize for Massive Black
Friday Strike

By John Lasker

Toward Freedom 
November 19, 2012

Video http://tinyurl.com/bntz2py

http://www.towardfreedom.com/home/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3047:taking-on-a-giant-walmart-workers-organize-for-massive-black-friday-strike&catid=35:labor&Itemid=68

Back in October, a neon green shirted flash mob invaded a
Walmart. But this was no-ordinary Walmart, and this is no-
ordinary group of people.

They are former and current employees of Walmart, and they're
not wearing smiles of sunshine. This is because the Walmart
they've targeted is directly across the street from the
retail giant's main headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas.

The 50 or so neon-clad people quickly gathered around the
front of the store near the cashiers. One of them began to
play a bucket drum, and as an infectious rhythm spread
through the store, a young lady in neon green raised a fist,
and fellow activists followed her lead.

These activists call themselves OUR Walmart; the acronym
 stands for Organization United for Respect. They feel their
 cause to be historic as they speak out for a living wage and
 greater benefits. But they seek an even bigger concession,
 one that doesn't ask for too much considering it won't cost
 the Walmart heirs, the Waltons, a cent: greater respect.

With fist still above her, the young lady in neon green
prepared to lead the others in a workers' song for the 21st
century, but then a store manager stepped a bit too close.
The activist doesn't hesitate, and begins to rap to the beat:

"Coach me, work me!

You will never break me!

Stand up, listen up!

Now it's time to speak up!

OUR Walmart is here to stay!

That Walmart needs to listen to US!"

Video of workers' action at Walmart in Bentonville, Arkansas:

The raucous scene was historical. Walmart employees were
striking and protesting for the first time under an organized
effort. And if you're thinking of buying a flat screen
television from Walmart on Black Friday or even after
pigging-out on Thanksgiving Day, you too may very-well be
flash-mobbed by striking Walmart workers.

OUR Walmart and several of its financial backers, such as the
United Food and Making Change at Walmart, have called for a
nationwide protest and walk-out this coming Black Friday.

It is a bold move, but well-calculated and includes a strong
 Internet presence. Retail organizers interviewed by Toward
 Freedom for this story all agree that OUR Walmart, which is
 now in 44 states, is a significant event. As one organizer
 emphatically said, this the "beginning of a new reality that
 isn't going away."

OUR believes that over 1,000 members will strike. Not a large
number if you consider Walmart, the world's largest retailer,
employs a mind-boggling 1.3 million Americans. Nonetheless,
OUR has won some early battles, when back in October they
convinced members from Los Angeles, Dallas, and ten other
cities, to strike.

Preston Johnson, a twenty-something from the Seattle area who
traveled to Bentonville, Arkansas for the flashmob, works
third shift for Walmart as an overnight support manager. He
joined OUR over a year ago after dealing "with my fair share
of unfair treatment." He is striking on Black Friday outside
his store.

"Like many of the associates who are standing up, I was able
to stand up for some of the things that are wrong and correct
those wrongs," he told Toward Freedom. "I am trying to
convince many of my associates to walk out. I know they are
scared of retaliation, but I will show them as being a
manager it is okay to stand-up against unfair labor practices
in our stores. We want to end the retaliation. We want to end
unfair scheduling [40 hours one week, 8 the next], the low
pay. But most of all, we want respect."

Retaliation against OUR is in full season - terminations,
suspensions, moving people to night shift and more. But
Johnson doesn't fear losing his job because OUR has turned to
the National Labor Relations Board for protection. Just like
union workers, non-union workers under labor laws cannot be
disciplined for walking off the job when protesting
conditions that fall under federal Unfair Labor Practices.

Patrick J. O'Neill, the Director of Organizing for the United
Food and Commercial Union (UFCW) - a long-time thorn in the
side of Walmart - admits the UFCW is the "anchor" of OUR
Walmart. The Waltons have decried the UFCW, believing the
union simply is seeking political and financial gain, and
doesn't truly care about its hourly or lower-level
associates.

O'Neill scoffs, saying, "They don't know what they're talking
 about. I'm not sure how a politician can help us."

O'Neill says as the holidays near, dissent is brewing in
every Walmart.

"The workers are taking this very seriously," he says. "The
 workers are fearful, they're scared, because at the same
 time Walmart is retaliating against them for being active,
 for organizing. But instead of the workers crawling under
 the table and being scared, they're saying `Screw you.'"

On the other side of this labor struggle, Walmart is giving
the same bah-humbug answers, boasting of how Walmart has been
opening on Thanksgiving for years and that OUR's opinions
only represent a handful of their workers.

"I just want to re-emphasize the fact that most of our stores
operate 24 hours and have been open on Thanksgiving since
1988," said Steve Restivo, a spokesman for Walmart told
Toward Freedom. "Recently, there have been a very small
number of associates raising concerns about their jobs, while
the opinions expressed by this group don't represent the
views of the vast majority of the more than 1.3 million
Walmart associates in the US."

 Johnson, the OUR member from Seattle, says Walmart is often
vague when telling their own associates what their rights are
- if they tell them at all. With OUR up and running, Johnson
says more and more Walmart workers are finally understanding
the power they actually have.

"I am definitely seeing change," says Johnson. "When we come
into the stores, and are able to get management to take a
step back from retaliating, the associates' appreciate us
giving them the knowledge of their rights." 
_______________

John Lasker is a freelance journalist from Columbus, Ohio.

___________________________________________

Portside aims to provide material of interest to people
on the left that will help them to interpret the world
and to change it.

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