OUR Walmart: Making history
Written by David Duhalde, of Brandeis Labor Coalition
UPDATE: Since this was posted, Walmart associates in Dallas, Texas, Miami, Florida, and Laurel, Maryland have also walked off the job! 10:55AM EST, 10/9/12.
On September 13, 2012, over thirty students, former Wal-Mart workers, Eastern Massachusetts Jobs with Justice activists, and members of the community came together. People came together to hear about the working conditions from former Walmart workers and learn how retail giant operates. The event came on the heels of Brandeis University’s Heller School for Social Policy and Management, a graduate school focusing on progressive public policy, accepting a five million dollar donation from the Walmart foundation.
The Walmart workers are members of Organization for United for Respect (OUR) at Walmart. OUR Walmart is an organization of current and former Walmart employees lobbying to make working conditions more humane for their 1.4 million coworkers. Their efforts joined with hundreds of Walmart Warehouse workers out on strike in California who have won complete back pay and other demands and Illinois over mistreatment and outsourcing.
Angela Williamson, a former Floridian Walmart employee, spoke about her time working at the big box store. She described it as being a small step above unemployment. While you received a salary, you depended heavily public and private safety nets. Walmart workers shared information about food kitchens and other charities to make ends meet.
Williamson said that it was nearly impossible to get full-time hours, which could prevent her poverty. And when a worker asked for more hours to pay bills, management would sometimes reply with advice on obtaining public assistance.
Wessa Millien, a former cashier from Miami, began to tell students about being constantly shuffled around. Before we could continue, a young Tea Party activist and fellow Walmart cashier interrupted her. He contended, after making sure the event was not recorded (likely out of fear of discipline), that the customers were the source of problems. Millien responded that it wasn’t shoppers denying her days off when she was sick.
Williamson pressed the conservative student more on his experiences. While defensive of the corporation at first, he eventually slipped that he was very frustrated with the amount of control “Bentonville” (i.e., corporate headquarters) had over minor decisions such as the temperature of store. While he tried to blame it on “bureaucracy,” it was clear to everyone that Walmart could alienate even the most pro-capitalist members of society.
A final presentation by the United Food and Commercial Workers staff illustrated that Wal-Mart was union in every country except the United States. In also, the heirs of Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, had more wealth than 42% of Americans. They and Walmart have an ideological commitment to privatization. Hence they are supporting many efforts to privatize public education.
However, while we might disagree with what Walmart politics, one matter is clear: Walmart’s working conditions set the floor for the industry. If Walmart can continue to make record profits while providing terrible wages and benefits, then many large retail stores will be forced to compete. It is a vicious cycle that keeps such jobs from providing basic living standards.
For the first time in the 50 years of the corporation, Walmart associates went on strike at several stores in Pico Rivera, California, to protest the company’s illegal attempts to silence them.
Last week’s historic strike is the latest in a flood of recent worker-led protests in the Walmart supply chain. From its suppliers to its warehouses to the stores themselves, workers at Walmart are fed up with being silenced.
If you want to sign the petition to support striking workers, click here.
Tomorrow, October 10th, will be a nationally coordinated day of action with over 500 events happening around the country. The momentum is building across the country as workers take a stand against the largest employer in the world whose practices are lowering job standards in industries across the globe. We’re ready to step up our campaign to improve working conditions for Walmart workers across the supply chain – but we can’t do it without you.