The world’s largest private-sector employer and biggest US corporation faces renewed workplace unrest. Workers who founded OUR Walmart two years ago are promising protests to coincide with Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving and the busiest shopping day of the year. They will demand a living wage, affordable healthcare, stable work schedules and an end to retaliation against their members.
OUR Walmart hopes to build on the success of last year, when Black Friday saw 500 workers walk off the job and join 30,000 demonstrators across 47 states. Employees blockaded the road to a store in Los Angeles for two hours before being arrested as 1,000 supporters looked on. Dramatic actions such as this gained traction in both traditional and social media, which has helped connect workers, dispersed across the US, who are brave enough to stand up to their employer.
Actions carried on throughout the year. In June, 100 workers joined a two-week strike and embarked on bus journeys across the US, echoing the civil rights movement’s ‘Freedom Riders’.
Walmart, a corporation famous for its hostility to unions, responded by disciplining 50 strikers and illegally firing another 20. Undeterred, OUR Walmart hit back on 5 September with protests that led to over 100 arrests.
Workers are mobilizing in difficult circumstances. As trades unions are banned at Walmart – which has simply closed down stores that have held union certification elections – activists do not seek legal recognition or collective bargaining rights. As one organizer explained: ‘We are taking action now rather than waiting for the law to do something.’
As a result, the organization has embraced participatory structures and forged strong community alliances. Its focus on leveraging greater associational power offers a glimpse of the path towards much-need labour movement renewal in the US.