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The Walmart Rebellion

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  • Ed Pearl
    http://www.thenation.com/article/171511/walmart-rebellion The Walmart Rebellion Editors, The Nation November 28,
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 1, 2012
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      The Walmart Rebellion

      <http://www.thenation.com/authors/editors> Editors, The Nation
      November 28, 2012, in the December 17, 2012
      <http://www.thenation.com/issue/december-17-2012> edition

      Walmart workers made history on Black Friday. When some 500 workers walked
      off the job in 100 cities, they pulled off the biggest US strike against the
      biggest private employer in the world, as well as the strongest-ever
      challenge to the dominant player in our economy. Walmart, which directly
      employs one out of every 100 US workers, has pioneered a business model
      based on low labor costs-and perfected the unionbusting tactics that keep
      them that way. The Walmart model has been forced on the company's
      contractors and suppliers and embraced by many of its competitors. That
      makes this year's work stoppages against the retail giant the most
      significant US strike wave of the twenty-first century.

      This is an indictment not just of Walmart's business model but of our broken
      labor laws. Walmart workers, like counterparts in other industries, confront
      a grim truth: although American law promises to "promote" collective
      bargaining, it has proved an utter failure at restraining employers set on
      evading it. Companies stonewall or intimidate employees at will, and absent
      canny strategy and inspired organizing, the law leaves workers hanging out
      to dry.

      The Black Friday strikers were emboldened by the knowledge that the law bans
      permanently replacing workers who strike because of employer retaliation;
      Walmart clearly had retaliated against activist workers, deploying a battery
      of sketchy firings, steep cuts in hours and surveillance of employee
      activists. But workers also know that Walmart has defied such laws with
      impunity in the past. The law is supposed to punish companies that retaliate
      against their workers; by going on strike, workers showed they knew they'd
      have to do that themselves-and at no small risk. Similarly, while the law
      promises protections like workplace safety, Walmart employees-like
      generations before them-find they must organize and strike to secure such
      basic rights.

      Union-backed nonunion labor groups like OUR Walmart have grown rapidly over
      the past two decades, as have "comprehensive campaigns" that leverage media,
      political and consumer pressures against employers. But although they are
      useful, too often such campaigns-like the one waged by some unions against
      Walmart a few years ago-ask too little of the workers themselves. As Walmart
      workers have shown this fall, there's no substitute for a strike.

      What next? Organizers promised that this latest strike would signal a "new
      permanent reality" at Walmart; as they picketed on Black Friday, workers
      were already discussing when they'd walk off the job again. To escalate the
      pressure on Walmart, the campaign will have to build on two key strengths.

      First, it will have to remain a movement of workers throughout Walmart's
      supply chain, including warehouse workers, who helped spur their retail
      counterparts to strike but played a lesser role on Black Friday. Those
      workers are best situated to disrupt Walmart's just-in-time logistics.
      Consider that perhaps the world's greatest labor victory against Walmart
      came after warehouse workers in Britain threatened to keep beer from
      reaching fans in time for the 2006 World Cup.

      Second, the campaign will have to remain deeply rooted in individual stores,
      developing worker leaders who can organize co-workers to take immediate
      action against abuses. The new focus on pushing employees to enlist
      co-workers in confronting local management-rather than just flying workers
      to press conferences at Walmart headquarters in Arkansas-helps explain why
      this campaign has outpaced its predecessors. It's the only way the Walmart
      insurrection can grow from strikes of hundreds to strikes of thousands.

      Walmart is still a formidable foe: gigantic, flush with money and political
      juice, undeterred by legal constraints, and willing to endure great costs
      and terrible press to maintain its dominion over employees. But if Walmart
      is allowed to keep on abusing the basic rights of its workers, we'll be in
      for a low-wage economy, an even weaker labor movement and a diminished
      democracy. Walmart workers have a long, hard road ahead. But they've already
      revived hope that there is an alternative to Walmartocracy.


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