A Walmart striker in Bentonville. (Credit: Michael Blain)
Bentonville, Arkansas—A morning of protests got off to an early start today, as striking employees and supporters boarded buses just after 6:15 am CST for an unannounced visit to the home of Walmart board member Jim Walton, the billionaire CEO of Arvest Bank Group. Around 7, when workers stepped off the bus, police were already present, and prevented them from walking along the long private road to Walton’s house. Instead, workers stood along the sleepy neighborhood’s tree-lined sidewalk, hoisting green signs with the five-fingered logo of their union-backed organization: a hand using two fingers to shape an “O,” for “OUR Walmart.”
“We came here respectfully, and we will leave respectfully,” San Leandro, California, striker Dominic Ware told the crowd, as he held up a giant check for $8.81—an IBISworld estimate (contested by the company) of Walmart’s average hourly wage. “We would just like Jim Walton to at least come talk to us, so he can see that these are associates.” Speaking after Ware, Maryland worker Cindy Murray also emphasized the a-word, which Walmart uses to describe its employees: “We are associates. It means equal partners. Do any of you feel equal today?” Fists raised in the air, most of the crowd yelled “No!” One or two answered, “Yes!”
The strikers tried to leave the blown-up check on the grass at the outer edge of Walton property, beneath the mailbox, but relented after a police officer told them that would be “littering.” Then the OUR Walmart activists marched towards downtown Bentonville, singing a customized version of “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize”: “One thing we did right was the day we decided to strike… I’ll be buried in my grave ‘fore I’ll ever be a Walmart slave.”
As I’ve reported, OUR Walmart members have been on strike since last week, alleging retaliation against workers who’ve organized for improvements in their wages and working conditions. Strikers and supporters are in Bentonville this week for the retail giant’s annual shareholder meeting on Friday, as are thousands of other Walmart employees chosen by company management. On Monday, Walmart spokesperson Kory Lundberg described the week’s demonstrations as “the latest union-organized publicity stunt made up of mostly union activists and a small and insignificant amount of associates participating.” Asked about today’s protests, Lundberg referred The Nation to his prior remarks.