Black Friday Demonstrations Across the Country Target Wal-Mart
This past "Black Friday" people gathered at Wal-Mart stores all across the country to protest the company's labor practices. With around 1,500 stores targeted and over 100 activists arrested, this was arguably the largest and most militant day of action against Wal-Mart yet. It's less clear whether the role of Wal-Mart workers in these actions has increased significantly or at all: during the Black Friday protests last year, more than 400 workers were on strike with more involved in the actions, but while workers were present at many or most of the actions this year, their numbers and the importance of their roles vs. the roles of labor and community groups in organizing these events do not seem to have improved.
The increased attention to Wal-Mart from unions and community activists is a positive development, but real progress in the campaign will come only with leadership from workers themselves and an expanded base of worker-activists. Hopefully, the energy and attention from these and future demonstrations can be funneled into efforts to organize workers, and to organize ongoing community support for workers that translates into something more consistent and more meaningful than annual demonstrations during the holidays.
Just as we did last year, we've gathered reports and images from Solidarity members who attended some of these demonstrations.
Los Angeles (Crenshaw)
Despite the unusually rainy weather, around 150-250 people showed up for a rally at a Wal-Mart in Crenshaw. A small delegation of workers and pastors went into the store to try to meet with management, who referred them to their "open door policy" and agreed to meet with the worker Monday (whether this is what the worker and OUR Walmart were hoping to achieve is unclear--it could as easily be an avoidance tactic as a concession).
Unfortunately the location was not terribly visible, despite being on a busy street: the union truck with a sound system was sitting in front of where most people were gathered, on a sidewalk, so it's likely that most Walmart shoppers saw some greater-than-usual commotion but didn't know what it was about.
There was plenty of private security as well as LAPD present, and they intervened to prevent demonstrators from carrying signs into the store.
Four Wal-Mart workers, a relative of one of the workers, a couple of pastors, and some organizers and supporters addressed the crowd, and there was well-organized music (including a performance by a local hip-hop group, Home Grown). The main message seemed to be about raises, but workers also spoke about authoritarian management and problems with short hours...while there was a good spirit of defiance of Wal-Mart and support for the workers, somehow the goals this year seemed to be less clear than last year, when at least some workers were out on strike. The event was well organized, but probably would have been more effective had it been more visible and more militant.
A Thanksgiving table set out with images of Wal-Mart workers who were unable to spend the holiday with their families because they had to work.
Long Beach, CA
More than 30 people protested outside the Walmart in downtown Long Beach, California, as part of the national protest against Wal-Mart’s treatment of its workers.
One protester was D. Elizabeth Martin. Martin, who is a practicing lawyer and who once lived in Long Beach but now Orange County, said, “I’m here because we need to start learning that corporate greed and corporate welfare always seems to go unnoticed and it is the poor who pay the price for it and it is the poor who are stigmatized for it. Every Walmart store in the United States costs us on average $500,000 a year between the taxes lost, the food stamps their employee are qualified for, and the state insurance they qualify for. So, the low prices you see are not really low prices. We are all paying taxes to support the low wages of their workers.”
Martin’s law partner, Richard Spix, said, “Wal-Mart has earned my eternal scorn and derision through their nefarious business model that has so many well-known defects and inhuman treatment along their entire supply chain.”
San Leandro, CA
The Black Friday actions here were a great success. The main rally was at the larger Wal-Mart store in San Leandro (10 minutes south of Oakland); there were at least 400-500 people present, including not only a significant number of Wal-Mart workers, members of UFCW Local 5, and others from the Our Wal-Mart campaign, but also many more unionists, especially from SEIU and education locals--Oakland Educators Association, AFT 2121, and the Peralta Federation of Teachers. The visibility and militancy (demonstrators occupied a major street in the second hour) was impressive (it helped that the police in San Leandro were directed by the former mayor to be flexible).
There were smaller actions at the store in Richmond earlier, and at the lesser Wal-Mart store in San Leandro and possibly in Oakland. This should also create momentum for the week of action for low wage/fast food workers culminating in the activities on December 5th (there will be two rallies that day in Oakland).
About a dozen activists, including members of Jobs with Justice and several student activists from the University of Tennessee, gathered at a Wal-Mart in the western part of the city. The action was visible to the heavy traffic at the store and got a number of honks and thumbs up from drivers. There were a number of (apparently off duty) cops present who told demonstrators they were trespassing, asked for IDs, and even threatened to make arrests if demonstrators didn't move to a public sidewalk.
There were 5 events in the western suburbs of Chicago, including one in Naperville organized by Occupy Naperville (which still meets weekly), Northern Illinois Jobs with Justice, and Fox Valley Citizens for Peace and Justice. There were about 30-40 people there, standing along a major road and attracting a lot of attention with signs and chanting. A surprising number of motorists honked their support.
In the city, three busloads went out and picketed at two different Wal-Mart stores: a large one on the west side (Latino and African American working class and poor) and a Wal-Mart Express in a young, primarily white, gentrified neighborhood. There were about 150-200 folks participating, mostly from unions (including the Chicago Teachers Union). There was also a fairly strong Left presence, including members of the International Socialist Organization and Socialist Alternative in addition to Solidarity.
Canton had one of several Walmart actions in Southeast Michigan. The largest appears to have been in Sterling Heights near Detroit with about 100 participants. There, the UAW participated along with SEIU, UFCW, Michigan United (a mainstream immigrant rights organization) and possibly other organizations. We are still gathering information about the scope and composition of actions.
The Baltimore Black Friday action went fairly well. About 50-75 people demonstrated at the Towson Marketplace shopping center, just outside Baltimore (Wal-Mart is the largest store in the complex). The entrance to the shopping center is on a fairly heavily traveled local road, and the demonstration was very visible to many cars passing by as well as those entering.
Reaction from passers-by was heavily favorable, with many drivers blowing horns, waving or giving the "thumbs-up." There weren't more than two or three hostile reactions.
The theme was primarily about low wages, and raising the minimum wage (signs said $15/hr). There were some people there from UFCW and Unite-HERE, but most of the crowd seemed to be from Baltimore's Left community.
The action lasted about an hour--chanting, singing, and some speakers with a bullhorn and portable amplifier. Fortunately, this year the target store was on a road with public sidewalks, so the police did not interfere, although there were quite a few of them there.
It was rather striking that at noon, when the demo began, the shopping center parking lot was about half empty. Perhaps it was more crowded early in the morning, but this appeared to confirm analysis to the effect that retailers are churning up Black Friday hysteria because demand remains slack overall.
In Western Mass. there were 9 stores targeted. The largest demonstration had about 200 people present at the Walmart in Hadley, MA (near UMass Amherst and Northampton). That is about 25 miles south of Amherst. Jobs with Justice organized people to go to the store in Orange, MA, about 22 miles east of Amherst. It was a small crew, only four people were there, though more had signed up to go.
We handed out leaflets for about 20 minutes and got a very good response from shoppers. Then the store manager told us that we were trespassing and we should leave. Of course we said no and stayed. Very shortly after that a cop came and we went through the same thing. We were claiming that we had the right to be there, according to the NLRB decision. After a while he said we would be arrested if we didn't leave immediately. Since we had no money for bail and were quite far from the main demonstrations, we decided to not get arrested at that point. So now we are contemplating all sorts of NLRB charges and other legal action and of course we will be building to get more folks there to challenge Walmart.
Pickets at the Williston and Berlin Vermont stores today were organized by the Vermont Workers’ Center, Vermont IWW, Vermont Fair Food Campaign, Vermont State Labor Council AFL-CIO, and Occupy Central VT. Vermonters are joining workers in hundreds of cities to demand livable wages, benefits, and policy solutions that respect people’s right to work with dignity. As we continue our fight to expand access to paid sick days for all Vermont workers, we stand with OUR Walmart workers this "Black Friday", as well as with fast food workers on the nationwide "Day Against Low Pay" to build our movement for economic justice.