They didn’t strike this time—but Walmart workers and their allies marched, rallied, danced, blew horns, and took arrests in a coordinated day of action in 15 cities yesterday. They were protesting the company’s recent crackdown on worker activists.
Walmart fired 20 members of the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart)—and disciplined 50 others—for taking part in a week-long strike in June. The company claimed the workers were “no-call, no-shows,” though they made it clear they were striking. “We don’t recognize strikers,” one supervisor told a fired employee in Baker, Louisiana.
Thousands of people participated in Thursday’s protests, according to OUR Walmart, and 100 were arrested—including in Dallas, Chicago, Seattle, Maryland, Orlando, Los Angeles, and New York.
The firings and disciplines were clearly aimed at putting a chill on worker organizing. The big question is, will it work? When Marc Bowers was fired at a Dallas store, he forecast that the move would affect his co-workers in two ways: “It’ll rev it up a little more. Half will be more mad, and half will be more fearful.”line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”>Steppin’ for Justice
Despite the company’s scare tactics, actions across the country had a tenor of lively defiance.
In San Francisco, protesters took the fight to Walmart board member Marissa Mayer for the second time this summer. To keep the firings in the public eye, OUR Walmart has been targeting key company board members, asking them to intervene against the retaliation. Gordon Mar reports:
a band of union musicians—performers in the local orchestra, which is locked out—played for a crowd of 50 workers and allies. “It was the most skilled music I’ve ever heard at a demonstration!” reported Joshua DeVries.
And in a delightful video of the action in Raleigh, North Carolina, something surprising happens after workers and community allies solemnly present store managers with a huge binder containing 170,000 signatures—the petition to reinstate the fired and disciplined workers.
As the managers give their canned response (they can’t accept the binder, they’ll talk with “associates” but non-employees have to leave), shouts begin to echo through the store. A flash mob in yellow “UFCW Local 1208 Steppin’ 4 Justice” bursts forth to perform an energetic synchronized routine.
Atmosphere of resistance: achieved.line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”>Strike First, Strike Back
OUR Walmart formed in 2011 with the support of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). Its goals are $13 an hour, adequate hours, respect on the job, affordable health care, and a way to redress grievances.
As Jenny Brown reported earlier this year, the group has drawn national enthusiasm for taking on the retail giant, long considered unorganizable, with a “strike-first” strategy:
most ambitious action yet.line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”>Doubling Down
Organizers have described the group as “open source,” meaning that workers can stumble upon it, talk to existing activists, and then organize themselves. By early this year, it boasted thousands of members in 43 states:
reported last month:
put it: “I got tired of being scared.”
Gordon Mar in San Francisco, Joshua DeVries in St. Paul, and Slobodan Dimitrov in Los Angeles contributed reporting and photographs to this article.