Wal-Mart labor group promises 1,500 Black Friday protests next week

Amid scrutiny of Wal-Mart taking up employee-to-employee charity, strike wave continues against retail giant

Published November 21, 2013 6:27PM (EST)

Protesters gather outside a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Store for a peaceful demonstration Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013, in Chicago.                                   (AP/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Protesters gather outside a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Store for a peaceful demonstration Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013, in Chicago. (AP/Charles Rex Arbogast)

The group behind the past year’s Wal-Mart strikes pledged Thursday to back an unprecedented 1,500 protests for “Black Friday” next week, but stopped short of predicting an increase in the number of Wal-Mart employees on strike compared to last year.

“Americans across the country are hearing us, and they are saying that they too want Wal-Mart to change,” Colorado Wal-Mart employee Barbara Gertz told reporters on a midday call. Gertz is an activist with the non-union worker group OUR Walmart, which is closely tied to the United Food & Commercial Workers union. As Salon first reported, OUR Walmart began mounting Wal-Mart work stoppages last fall, following five decades entirely free of coordinated Wal-Mart walkouts in the United States. Columbia political scientist Dorian Warren told reporters on OUR Walmart’s call that just as strikers after World War II turned General Motors from “the embodiment of all that was wrong with our economy” into a corporation that “eventually represented the American dream of upward mobility,” Wal-Mart strikers were now facing down a company that “represents the death of the American dream.” Wal-Mart did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Like last year, OUR Walmart has backed a wave of one-day strikes in the weeks leading up to “Black Friday,” the high-profile, record-revenue shopping day that follows Thanksgiving. Q. Knapp, an employee who joined a walkout in Dallas yesterday, told reporters that she and her husband “went on strike not only for ourselves and our family, but also for countless Wal-Mart workers who are afraid to speak out about poverty wages because of retaliation.” Wal-Mart has terminated at least 20 workers who joined a longer June strike, a move OUR Walmart charges violates federal law. The company maintains it did not illegally retaliate. The federal National Labor Relations Board announced this week that it had found enough evidence to issue a complaint against the company for labor law violations. A delegation of five fired workers is headed to Arkansas to seek a meeting with the company’s U.S. CEO at which they would ask to be returned to their jobs.

Strikes against Wal-Mart have anchored and amplified a comprehensive campaign targeting the company’s brand and ambitions, which received a major media boost this week with the report that an Ohio Wal-Mart took up an employee-to-employee charity collection to help workers get a Thanksgiving meal.

According to OUR Walmart, the 1,500 Black Friday protests will include major demonstrations in over a dozen cities including Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Washington, D.C. The campaign has said that last year’s Black Friday actions included tens of thousands of supporters and more than 400 striking Wal-Mart employees. Asked whether this year’s Black Friday will include strikes by a larger share of Wal-Mart’s 1.3 million employees, UFCW official and key OUR Walmart strategist Dan Schlademan told Salon that more announcements regarding strikes would be forthcoming. “The energy we’re seeing in support of Wal-Mart workers is growing,” said Schlademan, adding that strikes would take place “throughout the week of Black Friday, but we’ll make those announcements closer to that point.”

By Josh Eidelson

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Alt-labor Labor Strikes The Labor Movement Unions Wal-mart Walmart