Thursday, October 18, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #78 - Part 1

Good news: Wal-Mart workers strike

Starting out with, as I always like to when I can, good news, workers have gone on strike against Wal-Mart. Admittedly, the numbers involved were a small part of the overall company workforce, but 28 Wal-Marts in 22 cities were affected by the walkout and what's really important is that it happened at all: This was the first organized walkout against Wal-Mart in the company's history. Wal-Mart is one of the most notorious, the most vicious, the most virulently anti-union corporations around. Its "low prices" - and its enormous profits for its owners - are built on a foundation of crappy wages, poor benefits, and exploitation of workers, including discriminatory pay levels and even requiring them to work off the clock.

Wal-Mart is the largest private employer in the US and efforts to organize the stores has largely been unavailing because the bosses have been more than willing to fire anyone who showed the least pro-union inclination and go to some lengths to avoid hiring such people in the first place. So, again, while the strike was small and limited in numbers, the very fact that it happened at all is significant. What's equally significant is the internal corporate memo that was leaked revealing the company's plans to deal with the strike. (This was not a wildcat walkout; it was planned.)

The memo makes clear that Wal-Mart views the labor protests as a serious attack. It in essence advised store executives and managers to be careful to observe all the niceties of worker rights under labor law, including not disciplining employees who engage in strikes, sit-ins, sick-outs, or other forms of labor action. That is, contrary to how the company would normally respond, it was being extremely cautious in how it responded to the walkout, whether from fear of generating bad publicity, sparking an even wider walkout, or both, is uncertain.

What is certain is that in it's public comments, the company is dismissive, calling the strikes mere "publicity stunts" for the union to "advance its agenda." To which the appropriate response is "And...?"

The company also claimed to have reached out to the workers who went on strike last week, offering them the opportunity to sit down with management and discuss their issues. That is, "We won't talk to you as a group, where you might have some solidarity, some strength in numbers, but we're quite willing to have each of you, individually and alone, sit down and face the full weight of corporate management."

The plan now - or perhaps it should be said the threat now, if the immediate issues aren't resolved - is for a one-day walkout on Black Friday: the day after Thanksgiving and traditionally the busiest single shopping day of the entire year. To which I can only say "Right on!"

One last thing: Just the other day, my wife and I were driving past the Wal-Mart on Route 44 in Raynham - and outside, by the highway, there stood a group of people holding up a huge banner reading "Shame on Wal-Mart." And it made us smile.


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