THEY lined up near the TV cameras, waving signs that read “On Strike”. Many wore the lurid T-shirts of OUR Walmart (Organisation United for Respect at Walmart), the group organising the protest. The hundred or so demonstrators marched through the car park of a Walmart just outside Washington, DC, dodging cars and shopping trolleys, until they stood face-to-face with a shop manager.
Christine Bennett, a customer-service worker at that same Walmart, quietly read a letter explaining that she and those behind her were protesting against “Walmart’s attempts to silence and retaliate against associates who have spoken out about things like Walmart’s low take-home pay, unpredictable work schedules and unaffordable health benefits.” The manager responded courteously, and the marchers then politely retreated out of the car park. No tyres were burned or shoppers inconvenienced.
This was one of what organisers claim are 1,000 protests at Walmarts in the days before “Black Friday” (November 23rd, the day after Thanksgiving), the biggest shopping day on the American calendar. Walmart seems uncharacteristically spooked. The company filed a complaint with the National Labour Relations Board, the federal agency that enforces America’s labour laws, alleging that the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), which helped organise OUR Walmart, is engaged in unlawful picketing, trespassing and “intimidating Walmart customers and employees”. The UFCW retorts that Walmart is “grasping at straws”.