Guest Blogger

Wal-Mart Can Change Its Ways — If We Make Them

Beginning last month, Wal-Mart workers in Los Angeles staged a walkout Since then, workers from throughout the supply and distribution chains for the company have also walked out, culminating in a day of action on Black Friday. Bolder Advocacy asked organizer Erica Smiley to share some of the strategy behind the campaign against Wal-Mart. 

By Erica Smiley, Campaigns Director, Jobs with Justice and American Rights at Work

Good jobs are the cornerstone of a strong, healthy economy.  A good job is one where workers have collective bargaining rights, employment security, and wages and benefits that allow their families to enjoy a decent standard of living.  Thus, organizing to transform the economy means organizing to transform work into permanent, secure jobs where workers have dignity and respect.

OURWalMart is the voice for Wal-Mart workers.

As the largest private sector employer in the world, Wal-Mart has enormous power to set the trends not just for the retail, food and logistics industries, but for the economy as a whole. Wages and working conditions set at Wal-Mart have a ripple-effect throughout all jobs: low wages, limited access to health care, and no retirement security.  Meanwhile, wealth generated by Wal-Mart oozes its way into regressive projects that devastate our communities.

In order to take on Wal-Mart, we have to take on their primary pillars of power: their retail/market dominance, their supply/distribution chains, and their influence over the economy and our democracy.

A worker-centered approach

While there were some sporadic worker actions in previous campaigns targeting Wal-Mart, they were not consistent or nationally coordinated. The intentional, targeted and strategic worker organizing led by the Organization United for Respect at Wal-Mart, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), the Warehouse Workers United, the Warehouse Workers for Justice, and the National Guestworkers Alliance alone makes this campaign vastly different.

In order to make real gains to challenge the company, the strategies for each set of workers must be as nuanced and specific as the Wal-Mart operation.  In areas where the company has decentralized chains of command to avoid responsibility –such as with managers in the stores — the workers use a decentralized approach to organizing through the Organization United for Respect at Wal-Mart (OUR Wal-Mart),  an organization of Wal-Mart employees.

In other areas where the company is organized more hierarchically—such as in their sourcing/contracting/supply chain policies, workers are organizing themselves right up the chain. Jobs with Justice coalitions are supporting strategies for each type of business operation to increase the number of Wal-Mart workers who are organized to demand accountability from the company.

Challenging Wal-Mart growth/market dominance

Wal-Mart aims to maintain their status on Wall Street by expanding into the urban markets.  Naming dozens of stores at a time, the company’s expansion plans have no intentions of respecting existing small businesses, community development priorities, or of keeping the promise of good-paying jobs.

After years of fighting Wal-Mart through a “No Wal-Mart” strategy that failed, Jobs with Justice started working with the “Making Change at Wal-Mart” campaign, setting labor and community standards that would need to be met if Wal-Mart came into our communities.  Jobs with Justice has mobilized faith and community leaders to be a driving force in developing strategy and demands on the company, and not simply waiting for something to respond to.

So far, this strategy has forced Wal-Mart to publicly withdraw in Boston, admit to being stalled indefinitely in 4 of the 6 planned DC stores, and has stopped 2 stores in New York—in Brooklyn and in Queens. By framing the campaign as an attempt to positively change Wal-Mart, not just attack it, it has allowed us to truly curb Wal-Mart expansion and do it in coordination with Wal-Mart workers for the first time.

Mobilizing the Wal-Mart 99%

Workers and communities facing the company’s expansion are not the only ones impacted by the Wal-Mart web.  Wal-Mart wealth funds many aspects of the right-wing agenda.  From gutting public schools and teachers unions to selling genetically modified produce in their stores, there are more than a few constituencies that have a bone to pick with Wal-Mart. This group is more than a listing of organizations who are interested in Wal-Mart, and it is more than a listing of “allies” to Wal-Mart workers.  More strategically, this includes organizations that represent workers and some communities directly impacted by the Walton family web — the “Walto-pus”.

Mobilizing the Wal-Mart 99% addresses the broader challenges facing working families under the new economy—including the minimum wage, paid sick days, paycheck fairness and beyond.  Together, we raise our issues with Wal-Mart collectively.  We all want to meet with the Waltons to discuss their policies/practices & negotiate with them.

Our campaign aims to mobilize all of these workers and others affected by Wal-Mart board members, and the Waltons themselves, in a common fight for economic growth through full and fair employment.