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Walmart actions reflect anger of US working class

By: 
John Bell

November 24, 2012

Walmart is the second biggest employer in the US, and the number one employer of African-Americans. Walmart’s slogan is “Save money, live better”. By 2010 the financial worth of the Walton family equaled the combined wealth of 48.8 million US families. Let’s put that another way: this one family is “worth” as much as the bottom 41.5 per cent of American families
 
Founder Sam Walton once explained the secret to his success: “I pay low wages. I can take advantage of that. We're going to be successful, but the basis is a very low-wage, low-benefit model of employment.” The average pay for US Walmart “associates” is under $9 per hour. Even full time workers qualify for welfare programs and food stamps. A 2004 University of California, Berkeley study proved that California taxpayers were effectively subsidizing Walmart to the tune of $86 million per year.
 
Workers have no control over scheduling and hours, and complaints about management bullying, unfairness and favouritism are routine. Workers who complain and stand up for themselves and coworkers face reduced hours and firing. Walmart is adamantly anti-union. In 2000 a successful organizing drive among in-house meat cutters prompted the corporation to eliminate all such jobs across its chain. In 2004 workers in Jonquiére, Quebec made history by unionizing the first Walmart store. Six months later the corporation shut down the store as an example.
 
More and more US workers have had enough. They are organizing to fight back. Maybe they figure they have nothing to lose. Maybe they are motivated by the obscene gap between corporate profits and their wages. Organizing under the banner of OUR Walmart (forrespect.org) they have their own slogan: “Stand up, live better.”
 
On “Black Friday” Walmart workers and supporters staged over 1000 walkouts or protests, in more than 100 cities. Most of the events involved small numbers of Walmart workers–without a union, worker activists are fearful of reprisals, cut hours and firings. But they know they have the support of most of their co-workers. But several of the protests drew crowds of more than 1000. Many Walmart workers had the nerve to walk out and join the protests. One worker told a Milwaukee rally: “We need to stand up and tell these individuals we will not let poverty control us anymore.”
 
Mary Pat Tifft, a 24-year Walmart veteran, Spoke to a crowd in Kenosha, Wisconsin: “Walmart has spent the last 50 years pushing its way on workers and communities. In just one year, leaders of OUR Walmart and Warehouse Workers United have begun to prove that change is coming to the world's largest employer.” 
 
This is bad news for service sector employers who get away with paying poverty wages in so-called McJobs. And it is great news for workers in the US and beyond. They have numbers and justice (if not the law) on their side and the Walmart protests prove they are getting organized to fight for more.
 
 

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