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Black Friday Strikes

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Why do Wal-Mart workers keep using one-day strikes as a protest tool? Largely because they don’t have any other tools that are likely to work:

One-day strikes don’t shut down the workplace like iconic strikes of yore did (and some workers, like Chicago teachers, still can). But if done right, they can accomplish some of what those walkouts did: Embarrass companies, estrange them from their customers, and engage fellow workers and the broader public by disrupting business as usual and creating a public spectacle. Instead of halting production, they anchor broader campaigns of political, media, legal, and consumer pressure aimed at getting management to budge. “It’s showing them that enough is enough,” says Venanzi Luna, one of about 60 employees who joined a Nov. 13 California walkout backed by OUR Walmart, the non-union workers group closely tied to the United Food & Commercial Workers union. OUR Walmart insists its protests are paying off, pointing to a series of announcements by the retailer that address policies—from minimum-wage pay, to part-time scheduling, to accommodations for pregnant workers—that have been rallying cries for the campaign.

It’s entirely possible (I’d say probable) that this pressure is what is causing Wal-Mart to slightly move the dial toward a dignified life for its workers. But the end game is really hard to see for this movement. A wide-scale strike is really not possible without 100 times more active support for Wal-Mart workers than it presently has, in no small part because there are so many locations and workplaces. Even if everyone in one store went on strike, if the other nearby stores didn’t follow, Walmart would easily swat it away. Given this situation, the 1-day strike makes a lot of sense with continued pressure throughout the year that keeps the Wal-Mart workers’ situation in our consciousness and hopefully leads to some sort of eventual larger transformation of workers’ lives. Of course, it also doesn’t hurt when Wal-Mart embarrasses itself.

In other words, these actions are indicative of both the problems American workers face in 2014 and the potential organizing actions to alleviate those problems.

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  • GoDeep

    The 1 day strike is a great publicity tool, esp coming at the time of year it comes in. The Tracy Morgan lawsuit against WM should also be a good PR tool.

    • DrDick

      Agreed, though that is about all they do. I fear the Reagan was far too successful in his efforts to destroy the power and effectiveness of organized labor.

      • Right. It’s a great tactic but it’s hard to go from there. There are some great people trying though.

        • GoDeep

          So, what tactics should retail workers be using?

          • Don’t get me wrong–I think this is probably the best tactic they have.

            • DrDick

              Yeah, I would not disagree with that at all. It is a sad statement on the current state of affairs.

        • Richard Gadsden

          I think this is how they build their union, though. The more noise they make, the easier it gets to recruit members. Maybe they’ll be in a position to call a real strike in a few years’ time.

  • I suspect too many Walmart employees need their jobs too badly to participate in these strikes.

    • Same was true for the Flint sit-down strike.

      • postmodulator

        At some point the difference between “almost complete poverty” and “complete poverty” becomes unimportant. I think the Walton family is, without realizing it, searching for that point.

      • Brett

        That’s a good question. It wasn’t just unions – the volume of labor actions in general (wildcat and union) used to be a lot higher.

        • Wildcat strikes were outlawed with the NLRA in 1935.

          • Brett

            Doesn’t stop them from happening. A lot of the strikes in the 1970s were unauthorized IIRC.

            • Yes, but it makes them rare and hard to build into anything.

  • joe from Lowell

    Dear Erik,

    You have become, arguably, the most significant labor-oriented blogger in New England.

    A Google search on “Erik Loomis Market Basket” yields mostly comments from me, on threads you’ve written on other topics.

    I’m just saying.

    • I was unaware that I was obligated to speak on all labor issues, to the extent that the Market Basket thing was a labor issue since it was really about preferring one owner over another, even if I have little insight on it.

    • TriforceofNature

      When he’s not being aggressively condescending, he’s a sanctimonious prick.

      LGM’s resident blowhard, joe from Lowell, everybody!

      • joe from Lowell

        And on top of that, I even know what the word “sanctimonious” means.

        I wonder, was saying that I want Erik to write about the Market Basket protests also neoliberal?

        Lol

        • Captain Haddock

          Eh, I generally appreciate your comments quite a bit, JfL, but I don’t think you did a good job conveying your intended meaning with your first comment. Not to the extent of being a prick, sanctimonious or otherwise, but still.

          • sharculese

            Gonna echo CH, Joe. I get what you’re trying to say, but you maybe could have thought of a less dickish way to say it.

  • Brett

    I don’t know why Walmart isn’t lobbying for a higher minimum wage, considering they’ve supported increases in the past and an increase now would take some of the heat off of them. As long as it applies to everyone Walmart is much better positioned than most other store chains to adjust to the higher labor costs.

    But I suppose if they feel embarrassed enough to increase benefits, hours, and wages because of sporadic one-day strikes, then that’s something.

  • Samquilla

    1) I live in MD. Walmart is running ads here trying to convince people that it provides great opportunities for employee advancement. It’s weird to randomly see an ad that’s not about sales or the product but like “we’re not evil! Really! Believe us!”

    2) I would also be interested to read Erik’s take on Market Basket. I don’t think it was “just” employees favoring one owner over another. I think it was a victory for the concept of corporate leadership seeing employees as part of their community and responsibility. I take it there was a time when it was not gospel that profits – as high as possible no matter what – were the one and only goal of a corporation. Corporate responsibility for employee well being may be out of fashion, but it’s existence as an alternative way to understand corporations and their role in the economy is worth talking about, in the opinion of this particular “fan.”

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