You have probably heard about the Walmart strike on Black Friday — ostensibly the largest organized action against the world’s biggest retail operation — but maybe you’re eyeing up that TV on sale and wondering what the big deal is. As I write this, I’m staring at a friend’s two-year old broken down Walmart TV, but I understand the temptation.
Walmart, which employs 1.3 million plus people, has doubled down on their retaliation tactics against workers, and has even gone so far as to seek an injunction against the protests claiming – wait for it — “unfair labor practices” against the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, who are supporting the Walmart strikers. In other words, after retaliation didn’t work, Walmart sought to silence workers and citizens, by claiming the all powerful profit motive as the final say.
While they have a “right” to make a profit, that right does not supersede the first amendment (not yet anyway). Walmart is arguing that the union has nothing to do with their workers and their workers aren’t really striking. This is not true; some of their workers are striking. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) will most likely decide whether or not to grant the injunction today.
However, the workers don’t have to be striking for Americans to support fair labor practices with their wallets. Even if Walmart gets their injunction, citizens can still refuse to shop at Walmart on Black Friday.
Walmart has become an iconic representation of despotic corporate power that destroys communities, kills mom and pop stores, engages in predatory pricing and treats their workers like human garbage, racking up complaints with the NLRB about intimidation of employees and more. It has become the perfect example for why Reagan was wrong to kill antitrust enforcement. I note that while China embraces Walmart, Germany drove Walmart out of the country after Germany’s High Court ruled that Walmart’s low cost pricing strategy “undermined competition”. Walmart’s labor practices were also not a big hit in Germany, where they rebelled against video surveillance of their work, being told who they could flirt with, and being told to inform on their colleagues via a special hotline.
For years we’ve been hearing about greedy unions ruining the country, but no one has demanded that corporations dial back their greed or make concessions. Walmart has been a bad actor in many ways. For example, the majority of Walmart workers with children live below the poverty line, forcing the federal government to make up for what Walmart refuses to pay their workers. The majority of their goods are made outside of the U.S. and often in sweatshops.
Walmart operates as a monopsony (a large buyer controls a large proportion of the market and drives the prices down) and uses predatory pricing to manipulate the free market. It is beyond reasonable to make the argument that Walmart has amassed so much power as to distort the natural power balance. Walmart has enough power to force musicians into making sanitized versions of their music, impacting notions of free speech as if they have created a mini America sans a free market, in which they are the dictators.
There is no real reason why a successful corporation can’t treat its workers like a valuable part of the formula for success – in fact, they used to suggest just that in business classes. But Walmart has chosen to stand for corporate greed, under the guise of “American” products and affordable prices. This has resulted in a 70% employee turnover rate and workers who earn 25% less than their union counterparts after 2 years of employment. Yes, they are affordable at first glance, but upon a second glance, we can’t afford to keep allowing one corporation so much power.
But if you’re still eyeing up that TV, Walmart workers can tell you why they are striking, “We have been speaking out for good jobs with decent pay, regular hours, affordable healthcare and respect, but instead of working with us to make changes, Walmart has attempted to silence and retaliate against us for speaking out. Our jobs have been threatened, our hours cut, our schedules changed. Some of us have even been fired. We will not be silenced. Throughout the holiday season, including Black Friday, we will be standing up for an end to the retaliation against workers who speak out for what’s right for our families, our communities and our country, and we hope that you will stand with us.”
The workers have tried repeatedly to dialogue with management to no avail. They write, “It is not an easy decision, but without an end to the retaliation, Walmart workers across the country will be walking off the job in protest, and we hope you will join us in creative, non-violent action in solidarity with our strike. We ask that supporters take action that spreads the word about our strikes and demonstrates to Walmart a wave of support for workers who are speaking out.”
Walmart tweeted that we shouldn’t believe the union press, they don’t believe that the strike will have any impact on their customers (click to enlarge):
Contrary to the perceptions perpetrated by Walmart (whose whiny tweet about unions was telling), the strikers do not want to unlawfully disrupt business as much as they want to express that the workers of America are united, whether they are shoppers at Walmart or workers of Walmart. Strike organizers wrote, “We take great pains to carefully plan and conduct our actions so they are orderly, peaceful, permit access to and from Walmart’s stores, and do not unlawfully disrupt Walmart operations or interfere with worker productivity. We respectfully ask you to adhere to these principals when carrying out actions or protests in solidarity with Walmart associates. We will not be silenced until we see real change at Walmart.”
There are no perfect corporations, but there are degrees of abuse and on that spectrum, Walmart has become a scourge on liberty in more ways than just how they treat labor. They have been unchecked by the alleged free market that Reagan rigged. If you are going shopping today or tomorrow, think about the kind of America you want to live in, the jobs you want for your family and friends, and whether or not you think Walmart’s practices are moving us in the right direction. Your wallet is just another way to exercise your free speech, and Walmart can’t get an injunction against how you spend your money.
Image: Azure Ghost 2012 for PoliticusUSA
Additional sources: “Walmart Stores, Inc. vs. American Drugs, Inc.: Arkansas Supreme Court Decision”. (Case No. 94-235). Arkansas Supreme Court. January 9, 1995.