All photos by Allison Kilkenny
A coalition, including Occupy Wall Street, 99 Pickets, ALIGN, Rev. Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping, and the Retail Action Project gathered in Secaucus, New Jersey today as part of nationwide protests against Walmart and in solidarity with the company’s employees, who have reported widespread abuse and intimidation.
While some brave Walmart employees joined protests in other locations (a Chicago Walmart worker who walked off the job declared, “My ends ain’t meeting) and others expressed reticence to join the protests (a California employee said her co-workers wouldn’t strike because “they think we’ll never win” and “they didn’t want to lose their jobs”), the protest in Secaucus was more about offering solidarity and basically mirrored Occupy’s system of jail support.
In short: Occupy wants to provide support for people risking a lot to fight for their rights. Sometimes, that means offering jail support to activists willing to get arrested. Today, it took the form of performing a mic check inside a Walmart and then conducting a protest outside to show Walmart employees, perhaps some of whom are intimidated by the union-busting practices of the corporation, that they’re not alone.
As OWS stated on its website: “Getting fired for demonstrating is a scary thing.”
We at the Occupy Solidarity Network would like to help alleviate that worry for anyone who is fired in retribution for organizing or demonstrating at Walmart. Walmart workers decided in October 2012 to strike on Black Friday after they were targeted for retaliation for speaking out against substandard work conditions and treatment in the first ever walk out in the history of the company. Now we are looking at a world in which the bravest workers of Walmart are being fired so they may be silenced.
We will support the workers participating in organizing efforts and nonviolent demonstrations in support of the fight for economic civil rights of the Walmart worker effort. Money raised will go towards paying stipends and living expenses for workers fired for organizing and participating in acts of peaceful civil disobedience.
Photo of protest crowd outside Secaucus Walmart
Before the action in Secaucus, organizers stressed that today was not about creating even more misery for Walmart workers who are already asked to work brutally long hours during the Black Friday frenzy. They reminded protesters to be polite and courteous and to hand out fliers if asked about why they’re protesting Walmart.
Mic check inside a NJ Walmart
Protesters marching through Walmart
At one point, a protester accidentally toppled a display of toys at the store and a handful of activists rushed forward to help put it back together. All of this was part of a strange, delicate balance the protesters were trying to find: they wanted to be disruptive, but not cumbersome for the wrong reasons—they wanted to interrupt the machinery of Black Friday sales without becoming a burden for Walmart’s workers, who already suffer under low wages and union-busting. (photo of a mic check inside a Walmart store)
A protester named Louisa said she joined the protest in solidarity because “the way Walmart treats its workers affects how the rest of companies in America treat their workers.”
“It scares me,” Louisa said, referring to the low bar for wages and workers’ rights set by the Walmart company. “If nothing is done about the way they treat their workers, then it’s going to be a bleak future.”
Walmart initially dismissed the Black Friday protests by claiming the strike involves only a “handful of associates, at a handful of stores scattered across the country that are participating in these…made for-TV events,” even though the company then filed a National Labor Relations Board charge alleging that the pickets are illegal and asking for a judge to shut them down, and Our Walmart now alleges Walmart’s national headquarters “told store-level management to threaten workers with termination, discipline, and/or a lawsuit if they strike or engage in other concerted job actions on Black Friday.”
Security at stores was excessive, even taking into consideration the sometimes chaotic scenes associated with Black Friday sales. After the morning crowd surge had come and gone, a weird mix of local police, state police and officers from the Sheriff’s department still patrolled the aisles of a Walmart in Kearny, New Jersey, occasionally communicating with store management about the presence of pesky protesters.
Walmart was definitely the largest private recipient of taxpayer-funded policing today.
Quadeer Porter organized the smaller protest in Kearny and said he felt compelled to do so because “when you see a cause that’s dear to you, especially collective bargaining, union rights, I knew I had to do it.”
“Independent studies show that the average Walmart worker makes $9 an hour,” said Porter. “If you work forty hours a week, seven days a week, throughout the year, you’re only going to get roughly $19,000, which is below the poverty line. So these people in poverty have to be on welfare and use Medicare and Medicaid because they’re in poverty, so that’s putting the pressure on taxpayers while the Walton family is making billions of dollars in profit. And these employees are what make Walmart, Walmart.”
As for targeting Walmart workers instead of abusive management, Porter says, “People on food stamps are not the people you want to attack. We want to attack the individuals that are not giving these people fair pay…. It doesn’t make any sense, one person making billions of dollars while other people are trying to get scraps. It’s not fair.”
What do the historic Walmart strikes mean for labor organizing? Check out Josh Eidelson's coverage here.