Walmart reported another good Black Friday this year, drawing millions into a euphoric weekend of shopping. And, as corporate communications boasted, hardly anyone noticed the handful of agitators outside who tried to disrupt the fete with their protests. The full staffing at stores showed “our associates are excited to be there for our customers at this special time, and they are not joining in made-for-TV demonstrations in any meaningful way.”
But Friday was a good day for Glova Scott, too. She and a few coworkers at a Washington, DC, Walmart joined the Black Friday strike actions to speak out against poverty wages and unfair schedules. They knew they might risk retaliation, and the campaign’s call for $15 an hour and full-time work wouldn’t dent the sales rush. But, in a “meaningful way” for the workers, taking a day together to push for a fair workplace at the retail giant helped restore some of the dignity they’re denied year-round, when it can be a constant struggle to provide for even basic family needs.
Walmart’s brand, Scott reflected, tries “to put out a public face of giving lots of money for charity and being family oriented, but that’s not what they’re about. They’re just about making profit, and…their biggest source of profit is by not paying their workers a livable wage [or] the type of benefits that would allow us to take care of our families in the best way.”
True, the Black Friday protests are just symbolic actions, but in a retail industry that traffics in ad hype and disposable pleasures, the right symbolism can go a long way, especially if it stirs trouble at hundreds of stores. Since this wave of anti-Walmart campaigning was launched in 2011 by the labor advocacy group OUR Walmart, activists have reported small wins for workers, like improved scheduling practices, legal defense against retaliation suffered by protesters, and growing numbers.