When workers at a Southern California warehouse that stores goods for Walmart walked out on strike last month, it was no isolated incident. The company’s notoriously bottom-of-the-barrel employment practices, imposed on contractors and employees alike, are producing labor unrest up and down the supply chain. This morning produced the most dramatic actions yet, as Josh Eidelson reported in Salon:
[Walmart] 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… On Thursday, as first reported at Salon, southern California Walmart store workers staged a day-long walkout of their own. Organizers say over sixty workers from nine stores signed in as on strike.
Both retail strikes were organized by OUR Walmart, an association of Walmart employees that has tried to sidestep Walmart’s well-funded union-busting tactics by organizing workers without establishing itself as a formal union. OUR Walmart explained the grievances behind the strike:
Walmart workers and community leaders have been calling on Walmart and Chairman Rob Walton to address take home pay so low that Associates are forced to rely on public programs to support their families and understaffing that is keeping workers from receiving sufficient hours and is also hurting customer service. The company has not only refused to address these concerns that are affecting 1.4 million Associates across the country, it has attempted to silence those who speak out and has retaliated against workers for raising concerns that would to help the company, workers and the community.
While Walmart’s spokesman dismissed the strike as a publicity stunt, Columbia University political scientist Dorian Warren argues that the Walmart strikes are a game-changer. “They’ve never had a disruption in their supply chain.” Warren told Salon. “There was ‘Before,’ and there was ‘After,’ and we just crossed that line.” As I've written before, there is a powerful case to be made that strikes are an essential tool to increase workers' bargaining power and build the middle class.
Striking workers are calling on allies to sign a letter of support.