Protesters picket outside a Walmart store as holiday sales commence in San Leandro, California, November 22, 2012. (Reuters/Noah Berger)
In twelve weeks, on the busiest shopping day of the year, Walmart workers will mount what may be the biggest-ever US strike against the retail giant. In an e-mailed statement, a campaign closely tied to the United Food & Commercial Workers union promised “widespread, massive strikes and protests for Black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving. A Black Friday strike last year, in which organizers say over 400 workers walked off the job, was the largest and highest-profile action to date by the union-backed non-union workers’ group OUR Walmart, and the largest US strike in the company’s five-decade history.
“We’re standing strong,” Maryland Walmart employee Cindy Murray told The Nation Friday morning, after being held in jail overnight with other activists for a civil disobedience protest. “The Black Friday strikers are going to be back for Black Friday, if things don’t change before that. And we’re stronger than ever.” Asked whether more Walmart workers would walk off the job this coming Black Friday than did last year, the campaign told The Nation that it expected a very strong showing, but that planning had just begun and it was too early to offer numbers.
Workers first formally announced this year’s Black Friday strike at demonstrations held yesterday in fifteen cities across the country. According to organizers, hundreds of Walmart employees and thousands of supporters participated in yesterday’s mobilization; 109 protesters were arrested for acts of civil disobedience in eleven cities, including Baton Rouge, Dallas, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. Photos show some police wearing riot gear while removing activists seated in the street.
Asked this morning about yesterday’s protests and the planned Black Friday strike, a Walmart spokesperson questioned OUR Walmart’s turnout figures, e-mailing, “Did they give you those numbers with a straight face?” In a statement e-mailed Thursday morning, another company spokesperson dismissed yesterday’s demonstrations as a “union-backed publicity stunt,” and said, “At many 2012 protests there were no Walmart associates to be found at all…except of course the more than 1 million people who chose to work that day, helping to contribute to Walmart’s best Black Friday ever.”
As The Nation reported Tuesday, yesterday’s demonstrations were the latest escalation in OUR Walmart’s efforts to punish the retail giant for firing twenty activists who participated in a June strike, and for disciplining more than fifty others. Walmart has denied illegally retaliating, saying it “applied the time and attendance policy to the individual absences in the same way we do for other associates.”