To say that Walmart is anti-union is an understatement. The world's largest retailer, which brought in more than $460bn last year alone, has staunchly resisted any attempt by its low-paid North American workers to organise. When Canadian workers at a local Walmart unionised in 2005, the store was shut down: management cited economic reasons.
So it's particularly inspiring to see that the same week Walmart shares hit a record high, workers at nearly 30 stores in a dozen US states walked off the job for the first time ever in Walmart's 50-year history. The demand is clear: to be treated with simple human dignity.
Walmart employees from California to Florida are joining workers at Walmart suppliers to push for a living wage, less rigid working hours and an end to retaliation against workers who speak up. The organisers of OUR Walmart, the group behind the walkouts, says workers have filed more than 20 unfair labour practice complaints with the federal government. They say Walmart has warned employees not to talk to the group, and that workers who do have been fired or had their hours cut.
Walmart Workers stand tall!
Walking out on work takes a lot of guts. For people trying to raise a family on $8.90 an hour, to risk their jobs to speak out against a company that's proven ruthless against labour takes a special kind of courage.
Will this collective courage force Walmart to clean up its act? The company's habitual attitude to challenges has always been to stick to its guns and brazen it out. Company officials' initial reaction to the walkouts has been to dismiss them as a union-sponsored "stunt." And unions have long been trying to organise Walmart. (Interestingly, for all its anti-union fervour in the US, Walmart is actually successfully unionised in many foreign countries.)
But the striking workers are hanging tough – this slow burn series of walkouts has spread from California across the country. In fact, they're threatening to ratchet up the pressure by walking out on Black Friday – the day after Thanksgiving holiday – which is traditionally the busiest shopping day in the US.
The forces these workers are pushing against are daunting. The six top heirs to the fortune of Walmart founder Sam Walton alone have a combined fortune that's greater than the total worth of the entire bottom 30% of all Americans, and after the US and Chinese militaries it's the biggest employer on earth. But when people get together and stand up for themselves, amazing things can happen.
Read more: For a long, well-documented indictment of everything that's wrong with Walmart, check out this fact sheet from the makers of the documentary film, Walmart: the High Cost of Low Price.
Sources: Yahoo Finance, Walmart Watch, New York Times, Guardian, Wikipedia, Huffington Post, Avaaz, Washington Post, Herald News, Business Insider, Salon, CBS News, OUR Walmart, walmartmovie.com