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November 15, 2012

Walmart Workers Plan Black Friday Protests, So Walmart Will Open on “Black Thursday”

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Walmart Striker

The historic Walmart worker strikes over the past couple months built energy toward an even bigger culmination. Walmart workers, protesting low wages, erratic hours, lack of health benefits, and most importantly disrespect in the workplace, decided to speak their grievances in a series of worker-led actions. Walmart responded with retaliation, including firings, reductions of hours, and intimidation in the workplace. One organizer and former worker was handcuffed in front of his colleagues when he returned to talk to them about upcoming actions.

As a result, the non-union coalition OUR Walmart protested with temporary strikes at 28 stores in 12 states. They inspired supply chain walkouts and strikes at warehouses, to protest similar grievances and retaliation. And this all leads to a major action at Walmart stores on Black Friday, typically the biggest retail sales day of the year. This will includes strikes, in-store actions, potential flash mobs, and solidarity demonstrations from sympathetic allies. Organizers have billed it as the largest one-day action against Walmart in history, much larger than the October strikes.

There’s only one thing: Black Friday is happening on Black Thursday night this year.

Walmart is kicking off Black Friday shopping earlier than ever this year, opening stores at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.

“In addition to offering amazing low prices on the season’s top gifts, Walmart is taking the historic step to ensure wishlist items like the Apple iPad2 are available for customers during a special one-hour event on Thanksgiving,” the world’s largest retailer said in a statement today.

“We know it’s frustrating for customers to shop on Black Friday and not get the items they want,” said Duncan Mac Naughton, chief merchandising and marketing officer, Walmart U.S. “This year, for the first time ever, customers that shop during Walmart’s one-hour event will be guaranteed to have three of the most popular items under their tree at a great low price.”

I don’t think this shift totally has to do with expected Black Friday protests. Walmart has been moving in this direction for some time, making Black Friday start earlier and earlier. Several retailers opened last year at midnight. Moving it to Thursday night is just natural. But the fact that millions of shoppers will now avoid strike actions from Walmart workers doesn’t hurt.

However, because Walmart sets the standard for the industry, other retailers have shifted their big post-Thanksgiving sales to Thanksgiving night as well. And this has inspired a larger backlash among a whole swath of retail workers who won’t get a Thanksgiving holiday.

But retail employees and their families are protesting the earlier hours and steady invasion on their time with their families. About 40 petitions have popped up on Change.org targeting the earlier openings at Walmart, Best Buy, Sears, Target, and Toys “R” Us, including one from a Target employee’s sister:

Jennifer Ann, 26, started the petition so that her younger brother, a part-time Target employee, can spend Thanksgiving with the family. She asked that her last name not be published to protect her brother’s employment with the retailer.

“Last year he had to leave early, and this year he won’t be able to make it at all,” she said. Her brother, who has worked at Target for a handful of years, is a full-time student. Jennifer Ann said her brother enjoys his job and has no plans to leave Target. [...]

“I just hope next year this doesn’t occur. I hope retailers take a look at this,” Jennifer Ann said. “Every year this gets worst. People want to spend Thanksgiving with their families. Next year, I hope they revert to the way things were when Black Friday was on Friday.“

There are also petitions at SignOn.org.

So in an effort to race to the bottom, with avoidance of worker-led protests on the side, Walmart has now inspired a whole group of retail workers to demand more rights. I don’t know if it will succeed, but there’s a lot of potential in a media hit on Ebenezer Scrooge employers forcing their Tiny Tim employees out of their Thanksgiving dinners to go work.

Photo by UFCW International Union under Creative Commons license.


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