OAKLAND, Calif. — Over 100 protesters gathered at Wal-Mart’s new East Oakland superstore Aug. 27 to demand the store provide its workers with decent wages and benefits, union rights and good working conditions. Their demonstration was part of a worldwide campaign to demand that the virulently anti-union company recognize the right of its workers to organize.

The protest, just before Oakland students returned to school, also served to underscore the campaign by unions throughout the state, urging families not to do their back-to-school shopping at Wal-Mart.

Last week, Union Network International (UNI), a global coalition representing unions of janitors, telecom, commerce (retail) workers and others, said it is launching a campaign to get global employers, including Wal-Mart, to agree to universal core labor standards with emphasis on the right to organize, Press Associates, a union news service, reported.

“If they sign a core labor standards agreement, including the right to organize, the right to collective bargaining and anti-discrimination language, it opens the way to organizing,” UNI General Secretary Phillip Jennings said. “If they don’t, they’ll feel the heat with group action” from UNI members, “including industrial action,” he said.

Jennings said the coalition had contacted Wal-Mart, proposing a meeting to discuss global labor standards.

“Wal-Mart stands for low wages and union-busting, and has a history of building and operating in nonunion areas,” Raymond Graham, recording secretary of Carpenters Local 713, told the crowd. “I’m an East Oakland resident,” he added, “and I want to see growth for this area, but Wal-Mart doesn’t promote growth.”

If Wal-Mart wants to stay in the community, Graham said, it must provide livable wages, affordable health care and good working conditions, “and it must go union.”

“This is part of a much broader effort in the U.S. to draw attention to the effects of Wal-Mart,” said Ralph Silber of Kehilla Community Synagogue’s Economic Justice Committee. Silber and other synagogue members carried their banner in the protest.

“Our committee is concerned with the economic conditions affecting East Bay working people,” he said. “People need well-paying jobs, good benefits — not what Wal-Mart provides.”

Ben Visnick, president of the Oakland Education Association, said, “As a former retail clerk and member of UFCW Local 870, I know that every time a retail store of this size opens, it’s a threat to area Safeway and other retail workers.”

Visnick, who was joined by several other members of his union, also pointed out that Wal-Mart has historically supported the development of charter schools and has acted to undermine public education.

“As the world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart is setting the standard for America’s workplaces — and it’s a standard of low wages, poor benefits and worker abuse that working families cannot accept,” the California Labor Federation said in a statement. Pointing to the corporate giant’s “shameful record” of violating child labor laws, paying poverty wages, failing to provide affordable health insurance and paying women less than men, the federation said Wal-Mart “can afford to do better,” since it took in $10 billion in profits last year.

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