Nine activists were arrested at an Alexandria, Virginia protest Friday morning, the first of nine planned civil disobedience demonstrations against Wal-Mart. As I reported this morning, the planned arrests are a centerpiece of this year’s “Black Friday” activism against the retail giant, which organizers say will include strikes and 1,500 total protests. According to organizers, around two hundred people participated in the Alexandria rally; arrestees included employee Osvaldo Alonso and eight community supporters.
“Civil disobedience is a form of overt sacrifice of one’s body for a principle that one believes in,” Rainbow PUSH Coalition Founder Rev. Jesse Jackson told Salon Wednesday. “It’s the opposite of terrorism.” Jackson argued Wal-Mart workers’ use of civil disobedience showed that faced with “massive economic manipulation,” they were “willing to sacrifice to educate and inspire.” Jackson, who was with Dr. Martin Luther King when he was assassinated, said, “part of our movement was to get free and equal. These workers are free, but not equal.”
Members of the union-backed group OUR Walmart are demanding the chance to earn at least $25,000 a year, changes to work schedules they charge are erratic and insufficient, and an end to alleged retaliation against activists. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told reporters this month that the union federation “has committed the full weight of the labor movement to support these brave, determined Wal-Mart workers, and to end this epidemic.”
Today’s actions follow a series of one-day strikes in different cities over recent weeks. Fifteen-year employee Jaime Martinez told Salon Monday that he was striking in hopes of getting Wal-Mart to stop targeting activists and start recognizing that “we as employees, we work very hard.” Martinez added, “I know a lot of co-workers, they want to speak up and say something, but they’re afraid that Wal-Mart will retaliate against them and fire some of them.”
Wal-Mart did not immediately respond to a morning inquiry. In a Wednesday e-mail, Wal-Mart Vice President David Tovar called “planned arrests” “just another way to make these orchestrated events seem newsworthy.” In a statement e-mailed Friday morning, Wal-Mart US CEO Bill Simon touted the retailer’s holiday success so far: “Our Black Friday events were bigger, better, faster, cheaper and safer than ever. More customers chose us, we had the prices and products they were looking for, and we’re not finished yet.”