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.