Even if you never shop at Walmart, the corporate giant effects how you spend your money. Its sheer size gives it enormous influence. The strikes by Walmart employees, and those who work, for example, at distribution centers, face not only the corporate giant, but a giant who consistently and strongly fights union organizing. The number of strikers is small, but their efforts are growing, adding to similar international actions.
Josh Eidelson has a must read piece at Salon:
For the second time in five days – and also the second time in Walmart’s five decades – workers at multiple U.S. Walmart stores are on strike. This morning (October 9), workers walked off the job at stores in Dallas, Texas; Miami, Florida; Seattle, Washington; Laurel, Maryland; and Northern, Central, and Southern California. 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 wave of Walmart supply chain strikes without precedent in the United States: From shrimp workers in Louisiana, to warehouse workers in California and Illinois, to Walmart store employees in five states. …
The “why it matters to you” question is answered at Making Change at Walmart.org:
As the largest private employer in the United States and the world, Walmart is setting the standard for jobs. That standard is so low that hundreds of thousands of its employees are living in poverty—even many that work full time. The problems extend to workers who toil in unsafe working conditions in subcontracted warehouses. And also to workers in developing companies such as China and Bangladesh who make incredibly low wages while manufacturing the goods on Walmart’s shelves. That pulls down standards for workers in the United States and around the globe.
Because of its size and political influence, Walmart is affecting much more than just working conditions. …
Although it has gained much fanfare for its efforts in environmentalism, sustainability has mostly been a public relations campaign for Walmart. The company has … made little actual progress in reducing the environmental impacts of its products and business.
And Walmart has an outsized impact on our food system. It is the largest and seller of food in this country. That gives Walmart influence over which foods are available to the public, the methods in which food is produced, and the prices paid to producers. …
The company is also a major contributor to widening gap between the very rich and everyone else. The average full time Walmart ‘associate’ makes about $15,500 a year. And worse, Walmart is pushing more and more workers toward a permanent part-time status. Meanwhile, the six members of the Walton family—heirs to the Walmart fortune and near majority owners of the company—have a combined wealth of $93 billion. That’s more than the bottom 30% of Americans combined. …
Yesterday Making Change at Walmart released a report, Walmart’s Labor Problem: Limits to the Low-Road Business Model. Read the entire report here.
Walmart’s response to the strikes is predictable. From the Eidelson Salon article:
… Walmart spokesperson Dan Fogleman said the company ‘has some of the best jobs in the retail industry – good pay, affordable benefits and the chance for advancement.’ Asked about last week’s walkout, he said, ‘There is nothing new, nor historic, about the fact that labor unions want to organize Walmart. Their rally was just the latest publicity stunt by [the United Food & Commercial Workers union] to seek media attention in order to further its political agenda and financial objectives.’
… a campaign challenging Walmart to help rebuild our economy and strengthen working families. Anchored by UFCW (United Food and Commercial Workers), we are a coalition of Walmart associates, union members, small business owners, religious leaders, women’s advocacy groups, community groups, multi-ethnic coalitions, elected officials, and ordinary citizens who believe that changing Walmart is vital for the future of our country.
Eidelson interviews Dorian Warren, a Columbia University political scientist, who is co-writing a book on Walmart. About the strikes by store employees and warehouse workers, Warren said they
‘… are a game-changer: ‘There was ‘Before,’ and there was ‘After,’ and we just crossed that line.’ …
Eidelson notes that the strikes last week
… took place as representatives of the global union federation UNI were in town to launch a new Walmart Global Union Alliance.
In Argentina, unions do exist for Walmart employees. Eidelson quotes one of the UNI representatives, Marta Miranda, who said when she returned to Argentina, she’s tell co-workers that “the sleeping giant is waking up.”
The “giant” corporation employs a “giant” number of people, and sells to a “giant” number of customers. If employees and customers unite, even the Walton family might feel compelled to listen.
(Walmart Strike Poster via Making Change at Walmart)