Workers at Wal-mart have spread their strikes and protests against the world’s largest private-sector employer — 1.4 million workers — to at least 28 stores in 12 states and counting, over the issues of poverty wages, exorbitant hours, wage theft, uncertain schedules, arbitrary firings, physical threats, unhealthy working conditions and lack of healthcare coverage.
The workers are planning a massive strike and protest for the biggest shopping day of the year, “Black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving.
Immigrant workers have led the way, sparking the nationwide actions when they began a strike last June in the small town of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, against C.J.’s Seafood, a Wal-mart supplier. They were “guest workers” from Mexico who were paid much less than the minimum wage, forced to work shifts up to 24 hours with no overtime pay, and threatened with beatings if their breaks lasted more than five minutes. Twice they were locked inside their workplace to force them to work from 2:00 A.M. until 6:00 P.M. without overtime compensation. And if they challenged any of these horrors, they were threatened with deportation. C.J.’s Seafood brings in an annual revenue of up to $50 million and sells 85 percent of its production to Wal-mart.
Soon the strikes spread to Wal-mart stores and warehouses throughout California. In early September, 30 workers at a warehouse in Mira Loma, Ca., walked out for 15 days to protest unsafe working conditions, reporting temperatures up to 120 degrees, no access to clean water or regular breaks and faulty work equipment. Another 60 walked out in L.A. on October 4, and 250 in Pecora, followed by workers striking or protesting in San Diego, Sacramento and Pico Rivera.
Workers vs. the SWAT Team
Meanwhile, workers at a Wal-mart contractor warehouse in Elmwood, Illinois, the company’s largest distribution center struck in mid-September seventy percent of all imported products Wal-mart sells in the U.S. move through that facility. When a mass protest of 600 blocked the warehouse, a Chicago SWAT team was called in and arrested 17 demonstrators. Those workers had sued for non-payment for all hours worked and for overtime and for being paid less than the minimum wage. They cited work-days varying from two hours to 16 hours, inhaling dust and chemical residue, enduring extreme temperatures, forced to lift 250-pound boxes with no help, and discrimination against women workers.
Workers have walked off the job since then in Dallas, Seattle, Miami, Hallandale Beach, Florida, Orlando and Washington D.C., and in Minnesota, Maryland and Kentucky. In Massachusetts, 300 protesters picketed 30 stores, demanding a $25,000 annual minimum wage plus healthcare coverage. The demonstrators were equally divided among union members, students and churchgoers. Two hundred Wal-mart workers descended on a company investor meeting at its corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, advancing their demands.
While Wal-mart has been claiming these workers’ charges were false and were a “publicity stunt,” saying that it involves just a tiny group of disgruntled employees, they are actually taking the movement very seriously, having distributed a secret memo to all managers on how to handle the strikes and protest. (Huffington Post, 10/14)
Wal-mart’s Reaps Super-profits From Workers’ Labor
Wal-mart’s profits are based on all this super-exploitation. It had an “operating income of $10.2 billion through July 3 of this year” and “expects to generate $9 billion in on-line sales alone in 2013. The heirs to founder Sam Walton rank among the richest people in the U.S. with a combined wealth reportedly matching 42 percent of the country’s population.” (Home Media Magazine, 10/12)
While many of the strikes and protests have been led by the rank and file, organizations such as the National Guestworker Alliance, “Our Walmart,” the Organization United for Respect at Walmart, “Making Change at Walmart” and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union all have been involved.
However, none of these groups have pointed out the real source of the workers’ oppression: capitalism. They are all trying to reform the profit system, an impossibility. Wal-mart is driven by the same force that drives all bosses — maximum profit. That’s why Wal-mart exploits workers in China and other low-wage countries, and uses the same methods in the U.S. Profits are the name of the game, and it’s an international operation. There are no borders when it comes to accumulating profit.
The Bosses’ Government is NOT Neutral
Moreover, governments are there to enforce this system, whether in Beijing or Washington, D.C. They are not neutral. That Chicago SWAT team was not called in to force Wal-mart to accede to the workers’ demands; they were ordered in to arrest them.
While workers may be urged to resort to help from the U.S. Department of Labor to enforce so-called labor laws, that agency’s Wage and Hour Division employs a meager staff of 1,038 investigators to cover more than 135 million workers in over 7.3 million companies, leaving each inspector responsible for one and a quarter million workers! Most of these workers will have died before an inspector reaches their workplace. Neither Obama nor Romney will change that since their job is to enforce the profit system.
PLP calls on all workers to support the Wal-mart strikers and protesters in their efforts to achieve their demands and to join their picket lines, to raise this need for support in all their unions, mass organization, communities where Wal-mart exists, churches, schools and on college campuses. But we should have no illusions — as long as capitalism exists, Wal-mart and all their profit-making competitors will refuse to give up their drive for maximum profits. That is the essence of capitalism.
Progressive Labor Party must bring this dual message to the rank-and-file Wal-mart workers, and win them to join a revolutionary communist party, PLP, which fights for the only real solution to their abominable conditions, a communist society, without bosses and profits, run by and for working class which produces all value.
Additional sources include the New York Times, Salon.com, Nation of Change, ABC News, Boston Business Journal, Florida Sun Sentinel.