At least 55 total people have been arrested in Black Friday Wal-Mart protests, according to organizers. Those arrests, which came amid a statement of support from a handful of congressional Democrats and plans for 1,500 total protests, took place at civil disobedience actions in Ontario, California; Arlington, Virginia; Chicago; Dallas; and Secaucus, New Jersey. Arrests were also expected at mid-day demonstrations in St. Paul, Sacramento, and Seattle, and at a Bay Area rally at 3 PM PST.
“I have to look at my ancestors, and those who joined in civil rights marches, walks, sit-ins, and they did civil disobediences for us,” Chicago employee Myron Byrd told Salon prior to being arrested. He said his reaction when watching arrests at a prior protest was “Wow, this reminds me of the sit-in days – you know, when my mom and them used to talk about in the sixties.” Byrd added that the action was “for the workers who may stand, and most of them [who] cannot stand. I’m sacrificing myself along with others to do this to show Wal-Mart that hey, I’m not afraid, they not afraid, we not afraid.”
In a statement e-mailed Friday afternoon, Wal-Mart Vice President David Tovar said, “We expect some demonstrations at our stores today, although far fewer than what our critics are claiming and with hardly any actual Walmart associates participating.” He said the company’s “full-time and part-time associates” average “close to $12.00 an hour” and that while the company will “always” have “entry-level jobs,” “The real issue isn’t where you start. It’s where you can go once you’ve started.” OUR Walmart has seized on a company presentation to Goldman Sachs which touted annual income of at least $25,000 for “over 475,000” U.S. employees as an implicit admission that the majority of Wal-Mart’s 1.3 million US employees make less.
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, who led a protest outside a White Plains, New York Wal-Mart, told Salon she was “honored” to support the cause. Weingarten cited Wal-Mart and Walton family philanthropy “to try to actually decimate public schools.” She said about a third of the roughly hundred activists at her protest were teachers, in because “we know what happens to families when you’re making these horrible choices about whether you can have a roof over your head…whether you can have enough in your budget for food, whether you can pay for school supplies.” She added, “Capitalism was supposed to be about, you know, people making profits, but not…abusing and pauperizing their workers and communities.” When workers organize, she charged, “Wal-Mart’s first impulse is to fire them.” Wal-Mart has maintained that it did not break the law when it enforced its attendance policy against workers who had been on strike. The National Labor Relations Board announced last week that it had found sufficient merit in intimidation allegations against Wal-Mart to issue a complaint.
Democratic Senators Sherrod Brown and Ed Markey, and House members Jan Schakowsky, Judy Chu, William Lacy Clay, Gwen Moore, and Jim McDermott also voiced their support in a Friday statement, saying “It is time that Walmart pays its workers a fair wage and stops trampling on their rights.” The Democrats charged that the company “has systematically and illegally retaliated against workers who have had the courage to stand up to improve conditions.”
In contrast, the White House, which has repeatedly praised or held public events with Wal-Mart, did not respond to a request for comment. The union-backed labor group OUR Walmart, whose members and supporters are protesting today, this month launched an online petition seeking a meeting with the president. Independent Senator Bernie Sanders this week told Salon he “would hope that the president would join us in demanding that Wal-Mart start paying its workers a living wage.”