Instead of crazed shoppers, Walmart can expect massive protests outside its doors the day after Thanksgiving, known as “Black Friday.” In a Nov. 22 press conference, members of OURWalmart announced that workers throughout the U.S. are planning strikes, walkouts, and demonstrations at 1,500 Walmart locations – up from 1,200 in 2012.
The actions will be “one of the largest mobilizations of working families in American history,” organizers said. Protesters will call for Walmart to raise its labor standards, including increasing wages and ceasing to threaten its employees with disciplinary measures when they attempt to organize.
Conference moderator Barbara Gertz, a five-year Walmart worker from Colorado, noted that more than half of the big-box giant’s hourly employees make less than $25,000 per year. She remarked, “Why do we, workers at the world’s largest company, have to band together just to afford Thanksgiving dinner? Yes, Walmart ‘associates’ stick together and look out for each other. We have to, because Walmart and the Waltons seem to be fine with the financial struggles we’re all facing.”
As noted in a follow-up press release, “Walmart makes more than $17 billion in profits, with the wealth of the Walton family totaling over $144.7 billion – equal to that of 42 percent of Americans.”
Amy Traub, a senior policy analyst and OURWalmart member, pointed out that there’s simply no excuse for that sharp inequality. There are clearly measures the corporation could take to treat its workers more fairly. For example, she said, “We looked at the billions that Walmart spends annually on unproductive investments on Wall Street. If it diverted these funds, it could raise workers’ wages. Walmart also spends money on share buybacks, which don’t always even benefit investors in the long term. This, too, could be going to workers.”
She noted, however, “Walmart’s current business model is certainly benefiting the heirs to the Walton fortune. But unfortunately, that’s not the case for workers, or for taxpayers who end up subsidizing Walmart’s payroll.”
Dorian Warren, an associate professor at Columbia University who spoke at the news conference, added, “We think of Walmart as the embodiment of what’s wrong with the American economy. For the typical worker, it represents the death of the American dream and the decline of social mobility. But OURWalmart members are trying to revive the dream. Working families are fighting back like never before, and they have the support of America behind them.”
The demonstrations will be another step in the battle against Walmart’s anti-worker practices, coming right behind a recent victory for workers, when the National Labor Relations Board decided to charge and fine Walmart for illegal retaliations against its employees who spoke out for better jobs.
Warren continued, “Black Friday 2013 will mark a turning point in American history. 1,500 protests against Walmart is unprecedented.”
Gertz emphasized that Walmart workers are simply looking for justice and fairness. “We’re all in the same situation, one that Walmart creates by paying us poverty wages that aren’t enough to cover holiday meals,” she said. “We don’t want handouts, we want an employer that pays us enough to afford Thanksgiving dinner – and dinner every night of the year.”
“Walmart is just a bully,” declared Dallas worker Qulima Knacp. “And the only way to fight back against a bully is to speak up. People across the country are starting to see the real Walmart, and that’s why I continue to stand up, because the time for change is now.”