While many Americans spent their Black Friday battling fellow citizens for unnecessary junk at reduced prices (some taking bullets in parking-space spats), thousands of people spent their day doing something they see as more worthwhile.
In almost every state, community supporters joined Walmart employees to protest unsavory employment practices by the world’s largest retailer. Let’s set aside for a moment that the four richest Walmart kingpins own wealth equal to 40 percent of American families combined. The company also faces widespread accusations of retaliating against employees for speaking out, cutting hours to avoid paying benefits, and running a pervasive and obnoxious propaganda campaign against employee unionization.
On Friday, nine protestors, including three striking Walmart workers and a man who appeared to be a priest, took it to the next level. They sat down in the street as an act of civil disobedience, blocking the road to the Walmart at 14501 Lakewood Boulevard in Paramount, California.
They all peacefully submitted to arrest, an act they said was planned ahead of time and likely motivated by the desire to draw more attention to unfair treatment of low-wage workers.
As the protestors were picked off by police, at least 1,000 supporters cheered them on from the sidewalk, yelling “We support the workers!” When deputies came to the white-haired man who looked like a Catholic priest, people began shouting objections of “No Priest! No Priest!”
Here’s the amateur close-up video:
The “Paramount 9” were charged with the misdemeanor of refusing to disperse, said sheriff’s Capt. Mike Parker. If they had no outstanding charges, they likely received citations and then were released; however, they may have to go to court to answer the charge.
Walmart’s Spin Machine In High Gear
Walmart’s corporate spin machine may be revving into the red as it tries to deflect its shame and downplay the coordinated nationwide protests.
Not surprisingly, Walmart’s spokespeople are reporting grossly different participation estimates than what social media has been broadcasting. “The number of protests…are grossly exaggerated. We are aware of a few dozen protests at our stores today,” said David Tovar, vice president of corporate communications, in a Friday statement.
Meanwhile, organizers reported 1,000 protests held in 46 U.S. states, including worker strikes in 100 cities, according to Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart), an employee organization backed by the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) union.
Which side is being more truthful? Take this short photo and video tour that samples a few of the nationwide protests; then decide for yourself.
In addition, Walmart said only five scheduled workers at the Paramount Walmart walked out on Friday, while OUR Walmart said 18 of that store’s workers went on strike, joining the throng of 1,000 people outside the store.
That discrepancy sheds doubt on Walmart’s official statement that claims “the number of associates that have missed their scheduled shift today is more than 60 percent less than Black Friday last year.” (As a grammatical aside: Someone should tell Walmart that “associates” are people, and the appropriate pronoun to refer to them is “who.” “That” is reserved for objects…a word choice that reveals how Walmart really feels about its workers.)
“Most of the people UFCW claims at their events aren’t even Walmart workers,” said Walmart spokesman Steven V. Restivo, declining to acknowledge that OUR Walmart took a lead role in organizing the strike, with support from UFCW union members.
I am not sure why Walmart thinks it somehow reflects better on the store that protesting employees were joined by a large number of community supporters who are also disgusted with its practices…anyone have an answer for that?
Middle America Is Like “Duh”
I guess most Americans are either too poor, too clueless, or just can’t be bothered with the plight of America’s low-wage worker to avoid crossing picket lines. Despite the protests, Walmart reported its best Black Friday sales day ever, probably due to stores opening earlier than ever – 8:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving night. Shares of Wal-Mart stock rose 1.9 percent to $70.20 on Friday.
While the store’s owners continue to reap more profit than is decent, the majority of its 1.3 million employees are dependent on government subsidies, like food stamps, to survive. One Walmart manager reported that 4 out of 5 employees in her store receive food stamps, reports the Herald-Sun in Durham, North Carolina.
People who mobbed Walmart on Friday (after pretending to be thankful for what they already have) should realize that this protest isn’t just about Walmart workers. It represents making progress for minimum wage workers everywhere.
The people standing in solidarity with Walmart employees realize that a significant portion of working Americans will always live in poverty, dependent upon taxpayer subsidies, until CEOs reassess their grossly high salaries and the wages they allocate to people who keep the profit machine churning.
This isn’t wealth redistribution or communism – it’s common economic sense. Maybe you’ve already heard about the recent Demos report that says raising minimum wage to $25,000 per year would stimulate the economy and retail sales while lifting 1.5 million people out of poverty (Retail’s Hidden Potential: How Raising Wages Would Benefit Workers, the Industry and the Overall Economy).
Bottom line: We can’t have 46.2 million Americans living in poverty, while one family owns enough wealth to cover 49 million households.
Keep this information going. Protest by protest, and article by article, we can triumph over the entrenched greed that devalues our labor force – and our humanity.
For more coverage of striking Walmart workers, read: