In October, Walmart associates in Dallas and elsewhere walked off the job in protest. But that was merely a prelude. OUR Walmart, the group that organized the October strike, is planning another one on holiest of retail days: Black Friday.
The labor action will actually begin on Thanksgiving night, since that's when Walmart has decided Black Friday actually starts, taking the inevitable step of transforming Thanksgiving from a prelude to a massive consumer orgy into part of the consumer orgy itself. Organizers expect somewhere around 200 associates in the Dallas area to walk out and gather at a yet-to-be-determined Walmart near downtown. At 10 or so Friday morning, the workers will walk back on the job, just to see how management reacts.
This week's strike is part of an escalating battle between OUR Walmart, an employees' group backed and funded by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, and Walmart, which is famously anti-union. Workers are protesting low wages, poor benefits, arbitrary cuts to hours and the general suckiness of working at Walmart.
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There's no doubt, though, that this week's strikes will go forward. Colby Harris, a striker from Dallas who has been widely quoted in media coverage of the strikes, said that Walmart "is doing everything in its power to attempt to silence our voice" and that the Black Friday action is a necessary next step.
The most immediate question is what impact the strikes will have. The October protests marshaled a decent number of picketers in neon green T-shirts to the Wheatland Road Walmart but involved just a small, almost infinitesimal fraction of the workers at any given store. This time will likely be much the same, though it's anyone's guess what will happen when you throw a couple of hundred disgruntled employees into a scrum of the most die-hard shoppers. Nasty things can happen.
The larger question is whether OUR Walmart's efforts will change in any meaningful way how the company does business. For better or for worse, jobs at the world's largest private employer epitomize what is out there for the low-skill workers who, as the Hostess saga reminds us, were once able to find middle-class employment. If organizers have any success, it will be a major coup for organized labor. So far, Walmart shows no signs of backing down.