Yesterday, more than 200 Wal-Mart workers held a demonstration in front of a Wal-Mart store in Hialeah Gardens, Florida. In the first significant protest ever organized by Wal-Mart employees in the United States, workers objected to managers cutting their hours, and to the company’s insistence on employees’ “open availability,” as well as to a new, more stringent attendance policy. It’s courageous of these workers, who are part of a Florida group called “Associates at Wal-Mart,” to speak out publicly and demand better treatment. Let’s hope their protest is a turning point in the fight for workers’ rights at Wal-Mart, and that more workers will be emboldened by the Florida workers’ example and begin to organize. Too much of the debate over Wal-Mart takes place without the perspective of the true experts — the workers themselves.
Speaking of retail workers, the IWW’s Starbucks campaign — which I’ve mentioned on this blog before — is growing, and having some encouraging effects. Workers have organized in New York City, and, this summer, Chicago. Last week, the company raised its Chicago workers’ wages, increasing starting pay by thirty cents (to $7.80) and promising that if an employee gets a favorable performance review, her pay will go up to $8.58 after six months. New York City workers will make $9.63 an hour after six months on the job (and a favorable review), which means that the IWW campaign will have raised many employees’ wages by nearly 25% in two and a half years. The company insists that the raise has nothing to do with the union, but that claim simply isn’t credible. As Daniel Gross, who was recently fired for from Starbucks for union organizing, points out, the wage increase “isn’t justified by macroeconomic factors, or by any factors other than the union. Real wages for other workers in New York City haven’t increased by 25%, or anywhere near that!”
Of course, as Daniel points out, even with the increase, Starbucks workers do not make a living wage. He also stresses that the wage increase needs to be viewed in the context of Starbucks’ anti-union campaign: “The company still doesn’t recognize the union’s right to exist.” Starbucks still has a long way to go before the reality behind its counters matches its socially-responsible image.