For the second time in a week, workers at Walmart stores, this time in five states, have walked out on the job. While Walmart does not allow unions, and the strikes are relatively time-limited, this surge of worker activism at the nation’s largest employer is one of the biggest stories in US labor relations.
This morning, workers walked off the job at stores in Dallas, Texas; Miami, Florida; Seattle, Washington; Laurel, Maryland; and Northern, Central, and Southern California. No end date has been announced; some plan to remain on strike at least through tomorrow, when they’ll join other Walmart workers for a demonstration outside the company’s annual investor meeting in Bentonville, Arkansas. Today’s is the latest in a wave of Walmart supply chain strikes without precedent in the United States: From shrimp workers in Louisiana, to warehouse workers in California and Illinois, to Walmart store employees in five states.
“A lot of associates, we have to use somewhat of a buddy system,” Dallas worker Colby Harris said last night. “We loan each other money during non-paycheck weeks just to make it through to the next week when we get paid. Because we don’t have enough money after paying bills to even eat lunch.” Harris, who’s now on strike, said that after three years at Walmart, he makes $8.90 an hour in the produce department, and workers at his store have faced “constant retaliation” for speaking up.
Maybe there really is such a thing as pushing the US worker too far. You wouldn’t know it from the decline in real wages that has been going on almost unabated since 1979. You wouldn’t know it from the crushing of the labor movement and the decline in union density. You wouldn’t know it from the intimidation and harassment that accompanies any effort to organize and collectively bargain, especially at Walmart. But maybe this Walmart work stoppage is a symbol of cracks in the great compression of worker power in the US over the past 30-plus years. Maybe enough workers have become angry enough to fight.
Walmart has tried to dismiss these efforts. But given that they are the only strike actions in the history of the retailer, and that they’re spreading, I would guess there are some hairs being pulled out of heads among executives in Bentonville.
A supplier to Walmart recently settled its strike with warehouse workers by rescinding retaliatory measures against labor organizers and offering back pay to the striking workers. So something is happening, and I would recommend keeping an eye on the non-union worker collective OUR Walmart for more potential actions ahead.