Black Friday Strike

The Black Friday strike at Wal-Mart was interesting. I’m a bit skeptical that it means a lot, but who knows what will to what. People thought Occupy or the Battle of Seattle was world-changing and, well, where did all of that go? Meanwhile, the referendum to overturn the Republican anti-union measure SB-5 in Ohio motivated Democrats to make sure that state voted Democratic in 2012. Wal-Mart is the nation’s most anti-union company, if we combine intent with workforce size. We all know that it presses its suppliers to provide goods as cheap as possible, a scenario that leads to workers getting burned to death in unsafe factories. While the United Food and Commercial Workers was heavily involved in the Black Friday actions, it wasn’t a true organizing campaign in the sense of creating a union or even reaching that many workers. Rather, it was about getting word out, convincing people to come out to their local Wal-Mart to protest, and trying to get workers to walk out. Wal-Mart claims 50 workers went out, the organizers say it was closer to 500. Probably the latter is more correct given that there’s no good reason to believe anything Wal-Mart has to say about labor matters. Wal-Mart also claims that it had its biggest Black Friday ever. Could be, but that’s meaningless here since the goal wasn’t really to get people to stop shopping at Wal-Mart. This was about educating the public and worker empowerment.

The question now is where this goes. Wal-Mart would close stores rather than see them unionize so it’s tough sell, even at the low wages and terrible benefits. Workers who labor 40 hours a week and still qualify for food stamps don’t have much, but they do have that. If all of this convinces Wal-Mart to raise wages in order to buy workers off from unionizing, then it’s totally worth it. That’s only going to happen if the pressure continues and more workers decide that it’s worth the risk to stand up for a better life.

43 comments on this post.
  1. Observer:

    Here’s the problem.

    You wish there were an anti-market mechanism to insure above market wages and benefits for workers. Approximately 11.4% of the labor force in the US are union. A steady decline for the last 50 years or so.

    Your myopic vision doesn’t look at the whole world.

    Market says since WalMart is able to attract workers, they are paying the correct wage(s).

  2. joe from Lowell:

    Market says since WalMart is able to attract workers, they are paying the correct wage(s).

    Does that work the other way, too? If a unionized workforce secures a certain wage from its employer, Market says they are receiving the correct wage, because they are able to attract an employer?

    Surely, you wouldn’t be so incredibly shameless as to argue that the feeble American labor movement has the power to distort market forces in wage negotiations, but that Wal-Mart does not. Would you?

  3. Leeds man:

    People thought Occupy or the Battle of Seattle was world-changing and, well, where did all of that go?

    Occupy wasn’t a one-off, isolated event. It was an early symptom of a serious disease. Definitely more to come.

  4. Erik Loomis:

    Could be. We’ll see. If it does, will it be connected to anything like Occupy? Of that I am extremely skeptical.

  5. DrDick:

    Of course he is even more shameless than that. Just another pathetic plutocrat fluffer.

  6. Ian:

    People thought Occupy…was world-changing and, well, where did all of that go?
    Ain’t dead yet.

  7. Erik Loomis:

    Meh. Almost meaningless as an organizing tool.

  8. mcarson:

    Many of the people that supported occupy were at Walmart protest sites. Occupy did change the way everyone talks about the economy. Once that was accomplished, why let the NYPD keep beating them just to hold real estate? People associated with Occupy also helped call wider attention to NYPD stop and frisk (others had been protesting that forever, but got little publicity until some Occupy people wandered over) and the Muslim spying. NYPD’s over-reaction to Occupy allowed many to see cops lying for the first time. Chicago’s teacher’s strike benefited from the earlier protests there. Occupy wasn’t a union, it was a place for people to show up. Many of them are still showing up at other places. Some groups do great work with foreclosures, for example.

  9. mcarson:

    One point – Nobody in retail gets 40 hours. Most don’t get 35, either. Retail is a 27 hour a week job now, and those missing 13 hours matter. Workers have tried to cope by having 2 jobs, but that’s impossible now that “Always Available Scheduling” is in force. These people have to report to work on 3 hours notice, or use up one of their 3 to 6 strikes on the way to getting fired. A great way Walmart fires those it doesn’t like is to start calling them in at odd times on short notice, and then firing them for missing work.

  10. marijane:

    People still seem to be showing up to do good things with Occupy Oakland, for sure.

  11. Johnny Sack:

    Seattle! My debate partner used to call the WTO WTO-yo (Wuh-toe-yo). I remember free trade is what got me riled up back in the 90s. Didn’t Perot refer to NAFTA or something as causing a giant sucking sound? Ah. Clinton. Our most charismatic Republican president

    Anyway, when are there going to be trade negotiations in the US again? Who’s down for Battle in (insert city)?

  12. Andarte:

    If the goal isn’t to stop people from shopping at Wal-Mart, where will the leverage come from to get the better wages?

  13. GeoX:

    I strongly recommend this “all workers should be fucked as hard as possible ‘cuz MARKET SEZ SO” be used as loudly and proudly as possible as a wingnut talking point.

  14. ironic irony:

    “all workers should be fucked as hard as possible ‘cuz MARKET SEZ SO”

    It’s capitalist porn.

  15. Murc:

    You wish there were an anti-market mechanism to insure above market wages and benefits for workers.

    “Wish?”

    There are a ton of mechanisms to ensure above-market wages and benefits for workers. Many if not most of them are well-understood and, from a purely technical perspective, easily implemented.

    I am prepared to say that anyone who gets out there and works hard for their 40 a week ought to make enough to support a family and put enough away for a comfortable retirement, and if the market isn’t producing that outcome, then the market is wrong and should be forcibly corrected.

  16. Hogan:

    There are a ton of mechanisms to ensure above-market wages and benefits for workers.

    We have unions; they have compensation committees.

  17. JL:

    You missed Chicago this past year (the combined G8/NATO Summit protests). Which was pretty bloody (I was a medic there). “Battles” can sometimes accomplish tactical or strategic goals, but they aren’t fun or glamorous (though they can be satisfying even if they’re traumatic). I had nightmares for a month, cried when I looked up the intersection where the most shit went down on Google Maps Street View a month after, and can’t handle repeated/sustained loud noises anymore. And I wasn’t even one of the people who got hurt (though, part of being a medic is exposure to the people who were hurt the worst).

    Also, I am watching The West Wing for the first time, and I had something approaching a panic attack and almost had to leave the room (or throw something at the TV) during the episode where Toby encounters WTO protesters (who are portrayed VERY negatively), where he refers to the protests as the protesters’ spring break party, makes fun of their protective gear, and jokes about police violence.

    People get hurt in “battles”. Sometimes they’re necessary or useful but they shouldn’t be entered into lightly.

  18. JL:

    People thought Occupy…was world-changing and, well, where did all of that go?

    Among other things (some of which have been discussed upthread), into direct action Hurricane Sandy relief through Occupy Sandy. The mainstream media eventually noticed that Occupy was outperforming the Red Cross et al. And that it had been able to organize a massive number of people for the purpose, many of whom are angry about the failures in mainstream preparedness and relief.

    Of course, I wish more of these reporters understood the idea of doing relief work in neglected and mostly poor neighborhoods as political, as well as humanitarian.

  19. Malaclypse:

    Also Rolling Jubilee.

  20. Observer:

    I am prepared to say that anyone who gets out there and works hard for their 40 a week ought to make enough to support a family and put enough away for a comfortable retirement, and if the market isn’t producing that outcome, then the market is wrong and should be forcibly corrected.

    The market reflects the value that others collectively apply to that labor and if someone gets out there and works hard to support their family and doesn’t make enough money, they should work at something else that others attach a higher value to.

    The “correction” should be on the part of the worker in seeking a change in labor that is valued higher.

  21. Malaclypse:

    The market reflects the value… [rest of content-free run-on sentence omitted for clarity].

    You’re still soaking in reification, Jennie.

  22. bradP:

    I am prepared to say that anyone who gets out there and works hard for their 40 a week ought to make enough to support a family and put enough away for a comfortable retirement, and if the market isn’t producing that outcome, then the market is wrong and should be forcibly corrected.

    Lovely sentiment, but that bolded part is doing all the work for you. What exactly does “gets out there and works hard” mean?

  23. witless chum:

    This is the thing kind of thing the NLRB could be crushing and Obama doesn’t need 60 senators for.

  24. sharculese:

    Do you have a road map to the alternate universe where these sorts of trite , banalities actually apply?

  25. Erik Loomis:

    In a longer term, it could be the goal. But people were realistic about what this particular operation could accomplish.

  26. Sherm:

    Yeah, the local news reports were pretty depressing to watch — people just walking into the store and past the protesters to get their “bargains,” without any regard for the protesters or for the ostensible picket line that they were crossing. I agree that its unreasonable to expect people to stop shopping at Walmart, but it doesn’t seem to be asking much to expect people to put it off for one lousy day in a show of support for the Walmart workers.

  27. mark f:

    Did you miss this?

    NY Times: “Occupy Sandy: A Movement Moves to Relief”

  28. Chatham:

    Not everything is going to done for you by others. At a certain point, people will have to get involved. If the vast majority of the left think that staying indoors and pontificating on blogs is preferable to joining activist movements, they shouldn’t be surprised when said movements lose steam.

    Or to flip the old sixties saying – what if they had a social movement and no one came?

  29. Murc:

    The market reflects the value that others collectively apply to that labor

    There are perfectly cromulent non-market mechanisms for assigning value to labor. They may not be as efficient, but efficiency isn’t the only metric of somethings worth.

    if someone gets out there and works hard to support their family and doesn’t make enough money, they should work at something else that others attach a higher value to.

    Interesting. I take it you support a robust publicly-funded education system backed up by intensive job-retraining programs and a strong unemployment benefits system that ensures people are capable of seeking these different, higher-compensated jobs, rather than being stuck in the only thing they know how to do because they don’t have the financial wherewithal or the time to spend two years going back to school to re-train.

  30. Murc:

    I would say that anyone who is preforming well enough at their job to not be fired for cause is working hard enough to be paid a living wage. I’m not sure why that’s a hard concept to grasp for you.

    Implementation is tricky, of course. Management will always be looking for ways to dick workers over and to capture regulatory systems. Which is why unions are so important.

  31. Richard:

    Simply not true. The NLRB has no jurisdiction to compel employers to give more hours to employees. Conceivably they could bring an action against one company arguing that giving less hours is an unfair labor practice but such an action would have almost no chance of winning.

  32. JL:

    It’s a good point in general, but slightly unfair applied to Erik, who spends more time than most left-of-center bloggers that I’ve read writing about both historical and contemporary social movements. After all, you’re also pretty screwed as a social movement if nobody inside or outside the movement covers you (or covers you by writing complete nonsense to make you look bad).

  33. John:

    To say nothing of a single payer health care system that is not tied to employment.

  34. John:

    Always available scheduling (and using it to fire people you don’t like) couldn’t qualify as an unfair labor practice?

  35. Chatham:

    I don’t disagree that Eric is better than the majority of bloggers on the left that focus on the current GOP gaffes or whatever (a pretty low bar). Still, his comment is similar to a number of others I’ve seen that almost takes politics to be a spectator sport. The reaction to Occupy is “let’s see what it does” vs. “let’s see what we can do with it.” Not that one has to be a supporter of Occupy, but at some point theory will have to be put into action by somebody for something.

    I’ve seen this problem locally as well. There are always tons of people that want to be the strategists, want to hold the dinners, want to tell you who you should talk to, etc., but there’s never enough people willing to hit the ground and collect the signatures or attend the meetings.

    All of this talk about what the Democrats can do or should do is meaningless if there isn’t some kind of action to back it up.

  36. Chatham:

    I don’t think a battle’s going to make much of a difference (and it often makes people hostile to your efforts). I think this would be a better way to go about things:

    http://www.eagleforum.org/misc/brochures/precinct-committman.shtml

  37. Hogan:

    It would be both unfair and a labor practice, but “unfair labor practice” is a term of art referring to specific violations of the National Labor Relations Act. Neither always available scheduling nor firing at-will employees for pretty much any reason (except trying to form a union) would qualify.

  38. Sherm:

    This is 100% correct. Few people appreciate the fact that employers can pretty much do whatever they damn please to their employees, so long as its not discriminatory in nature.

  39. Sherm:

    I also want to add (for John) that employers do not need a reason to fire people they don’t like. An employer can fire an at will employee for any non-discriminatory reason, or for no reason at all.

  40. Hogan:

    “In Bay City,” said Maglashan, “we could murder you for that.”

    “In Bay City you could murder me for wearing a blue tie,” I said.

  41. Sherm:

    I’m missing the literary reference, but funny in any event because I have actually told people that an employer can fire you if they don’t like your tie.

  42. Hogan:

    Raymond Chandler. In the Marlowe novels the Bay City cops are notoriously brutal and corrupt, even compared to LA, which is saying something.

  43. JL:

    To be fair, sometimes a battle works. Stonewall was a battle. The labor movement had a lot of battles. And pretty much all tactics have the potential to alienate someone, because people are unreasonable and think that social change happens by magic.

    But (if you have any sense) you don’t just do it because hey, cool, a battle. And you do other things too. My examples from the previous paragraph, the LBGTQ and labor movements, both used a wide variety of tactics.

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