HAVANA TIMES – A wave of historic protests struck the retail giant Wal-Mart on Black Friday — the busiest shopping day of the year. Workers and their supporters demonstrated at more than 1,000 stores. The Wal-Mart protests were organized in part by OUR Walmart, an organization backed by the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union.
Nine people, including three Wal-Mart workers, were arrested at a protest in Los Angeles after they blocked traffic. We broadcast the voices of protesters in Secaucus, New Jersey, and speak to Josh Eidelson, a contributing writer for The Nation magazine.
AMY GOODMAN: As we turn now to the wave of historic protests that struck the retail giant Walmart on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving that’s the busiest shopping day of the year. Workers and their supporters demonstrated at more than a thousand Walmart stores. Democracy Now! went to the Walmart in Secaucus, New Jersey on Friday.
PROTEST ORGANIZER: Once you get off the bus, we are going to divide in different groups. We’re gonna start going in different groups to the store. We’re gonna have a flash mob at 9 o’clock, we’re gonna occupy the parking lot and we’re gonna sing a lot of fun songs.
SUNDROP CARTER: My name is Sundrop Carter and right now, we are in front — actually we’re in front of Sam’s Club next to Walmart in Secaucus, New Jersey at a Black Friday protest. Workers across the country are walking out of stores today, telling Walmart that they’re tired of treated badly and want fair wages and respect at their workplace, and we are here and solidarity with those workers.
Last I heard there’s over 1,000 actions happening across the country, and there’s walkouts happening — worker walkouts happening in over 100 stores.
WALTER AREVALO: My name is Walter Arevalo. I used to work at the store over at Kearny, New Jersey, that was store #5457. I worked there for like about two and half years. It was a pretty hostile environment. Particularly, they would expected one person to do like a three-man job, in basically eight hours. There were times, I don’t know how I would do so, but there were other workers that they really just couldn’t handle the amount of work that was given to them.
TAMMY TYREE: My name is Tammy Tyree, I am with the Retail Action Project, and we fight for change in the retail industry. Many people shop but they don’t think about whose the person the person that’s helping them, and that that person has a family and is making a living.
This is not just something that people do on their way to something else all the time, which is what the major employers try to tell people. These are careers. I made a living doing retail work for 30 years. Many people are not able to do so today. There’s a large percentage of retail workers that are working for $7.25 an hour, which is minimum wage, and even some retailers are paying people below minimum wage. Benefits come to you when you work a certain number of hours and when you have a certain status, but if people are working and they’re not getting even part-time hours, not even part-time hours, how can you get benefits? So the way that they are denied benefits is by not giving the workers the hours and giving them the classification of full-time or even authorized part-time work.
WALTER AREVALO: We talked about going on strike and everything, but that just never went through. We even talked about walking out on Black Friday even before all this happened. Management bullies them, and they’ll just let them know, well look, if you do so and so, you’re gonna lose your job, point blank.
PROTESTOR: …treat workers with respect —
PROTESTORS: …treat workers with respect —
PROTESTOR: …in solidarity —
PROTESTORS: …in solidarity —
PROTESTOR: …Occupy Wall Street —
PROTESTORS: …Occupy Wall Street —
PROTESTOR: …is occupying this store.
WALMART SECURITY: Excuse me.
PROTESTORS: …is occupying this store.
WALMART SECURITY: Excuse me.
STEVE SHERMAN: People were doing mic-checks, like in groups about ten, and Walmart security was coming around and telling people they would have to leave.
STEVE SHERMAN: And so people sort of dispersed, and then we just found this other group of about 50 or 60 people who were being pushed out of the store by security and chanting on the way out.
MAX BRUNY: My name is Max and I’m from United Food and Commercial Workers local 888. The nation is finally catching up with what’s going on at Walmart. It is one thing to say low price, low price, low price, but there is a price to the low price.
WALTER AREVALO: It’s time for Walmart Associates and even associates now to show a message over to the folks over in Bentonville, Arkansas, that we’re just not gonna take it anymore.
AMY GOODMAN: The voices of protest outside of a Secaucus, New Jersey Walmart, produced by Democracy Now! Sam Alcoff and Martyna Starosta. They produced the piece. The Walmart protests were organized, in part, by OUR Walmart an organization backed by the United Food and Commercial Workers. Nine people, including three Walmart workers were arrested at a protest in Los Angeles after they blocked traffic. Walmart responded by diminishing the impact of the demonstrations. This is the company’s Marketing Officer, Duncan MacNaughton.
DUNCAN MACNAUGHTON: We estimate that less than 50 Walmart associates were involved in the protests across the United States, and in many of those locations, no Walmart associates took place. We had roughly the same number of call ins that we had last year for people that didn’t come to work.
AMY GOODMAN: Well for more, we’re joined by Josh Eidelson, contributing writer for The Nation Magazine, Salon and In These Times where he’s been reporting on the Walmart protest. We did ask Walmart to join us today but they did not respond to our request. We had you on last Wednesday, before the big protest on Friday. Can you summarize what happened, Josh, on Black Friday?
JOSH EIDELSON: Sure, So what we saw Thursday night and Friday was over 1000 protests, strikes in 100 cities, according to organizers. Those strikes, they say, included hundreds of workers. Organizers say they’re still counting the number, but, for perspective, in October, we saw 160 retailers go out on strike. So, if there were hundreds out, we’ve seen, not exponential growth, but likely steady increase in the number of workers who are out, and that comes after significant threats and captive audience meetings and other efforts by Walmart to suppress the protests and make workers believe that there would be “consequences.”
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean by captive audience meetings? And also talk about Walmart’s changing or evolve response to these growing protests.
JOSH EIDELSON: So, I talked to workers for The Nation who described mandatory meetings where Walmart, a company that we know doesn’t pay for anything they don’t think they have to, paid workers to sit in meetings where they were told, that if they participated, it could hurt Walmart sales, it could cut into their bonuses. Where they were told no comment in response to the question of whether they could be disciplined for participating. And so we see, at the same time that Walmart has been publicly dismissive, privately, Walmart has made an intensified effort over the past week leading up to Black Friday to make workers believe that they could suffer adverse consequences if they participate.
AMY GOODMAN: And then talking about whether or not these protests were legal or illegal.
JOSH EIDELSON: Yes, so Walmart filed a National Labor Relations Board charge, which, as I explained at The Nation, is unlikely to succeed, but sends the message to workers that Walmart is claiming the strikes are not legally protected. Whether Walmart wins would be determined on whether the strikes are designed to win union recognition and the workers haven’t really provided Walmart any evidence of that. But this was a shot across the bow to send the message that, even though the law protects strikes against unfair labor practices, Walmart sees the strikes as illegal, which would give Walmart justification to fire people who participated.