Buckling under the strain of years of oppressive
management, workers across America at fast-food chains and Walmart stores have been
demanding improved wages and working conditions.
have been known to stage short protest strikes lasting one or two days before.
Of course, Walmart has always proven large enough to absorb these strikes and
to resist any calls for change being made by its workers. Recently, however,
workers, with the support of workers’ rights group, OURWalmart,
and the UFCW, have increased pressure on the company by staging longer protest
strikes. Walmart workers at various stores across America went on strike on
Tuesday, May 28. The strike is expected to continue at least until June 7th,
the date of Walmart’s annual shareholders’ meeting.
referred to these strikes as a “publicity stunt”, it’s clear from past practice
that Walmart is unlikely to regard these strikes in such a non-threatening way.
Walmart has been so steadfast in its anti-union stance over the years it has
become notorious for firing, harassing or otherwise intimidating workers who would
seek to organize. The result is that not a single Walmart worker in America has
George Miller (D-CA) to the U.S. House of Representatives, which notes that
Walmart has even issued “A Manager’s Toolbox to Remaining Union Free”. The
Toolbox gives managers a list of “warning signs” to look out for. If a manager
notices workers having “frequent meetings at associates’ homes” and/or “associates
who are never seen together suddenly start talking or associating with each other”,
the Toolbox indicates that the workers might be organizing.
provided with a hotline to call to alert the company. Once alerted, Walmart deploys
specialists who descend on the store to spoil any efforts by workers to
organize. And where the old standbys of fear, intimidation and harassment don’t
give these so-called specialists the means to quell the fervour of workers for
labour rights, Walmart may use other means to avoid unionization. In 2000, for
instance, when workers of a meat-cutting department at a Walmart store in Texas
successfully voted for union representation, Walmart simply eliminated its
meat-cutting departments entirely.
than a few eyebrows, with Human Rights Watch calling the company “a case study
in what is wrong with U.S. labour laws.”
The Walmart Toolbox is designed to keep workers down and maintain this broken
system, one in which poverty, sorrow and fear are at once means and ends in
themselves. The striking workers are trying to use their own toolbox to fix a
broken system, one in which fair wages, optimism and courage will become the
wages it could have a profoundly positive effect not only on America, but on
North America as a whole. The idea is simple: workers earning more money will
have more money to spend and will help stimulate the economy. In this sense,
the workers are fighting not only for their own economic well-being; they’re
struggling to spur an economic recovery that has eluded our political leaders
for years now. There are over 1 million Walmart workers in the U.S. The rising
tide of their calls for improved wages and working conditions might just be the
high tide that raises all of the boats in our economy.
Wages: The Hidden Price we all pay for Wal-Mart”, A Report by the Democratic
Staff on Education and the Workforce – U.S. House of Representatives,
Representative George Miller (D-CA), Senior Democrat. (February 16, 2004) at p.