Thursday, November 29, 2012

Fast Food Workers Go On Strike in NYC!

 From Josh Eidelson at Salon:
 "At 6:30 this morning, New York City fast food workers walked off the job, launching a rare strike against a nearly union-free industry. Organizers expect workers at dozens of stores to join the one-day strike, a bold challenge to an industry whose low wages, limited hours and precarious employment typify a growing portion of the U.S. economy."
Photo by Laura Clawson at Daily Kos

Sarah Jaffe had this to say in The Atlantic:

"For so long, a lot of labor and other folks have avoided these industries because they thought they were too low wage, too hard to organize, and now our economy has become an economy of mostly low wage service jobs," Westin said. "It was the same thing when they were organizing factories in the early 1900s. They organized those factories and lifted an entire segment of the population into the middle class. This could happen here. We could lift an entire segment of the US population out of poverty and into the middle class."
 Crossposted from LABORSTRAT:

"And this is the common thematic element of the new organizational efforts we’re seeing take place in the service industries. Both the Walmart strikes and the New York City fast food strikes taking place are very demonstrative. That is to say, they are attempting to expose a contradiction in an industry (very successful companies who compensate workers very minimally) with a very visible, highly publicized action. This is a great way to create a discussion, but the question remains after that discussion begins: what type of organizations, unions, and institutions are we to build which can maintain the energy we’ve produced through activism. What receives this infrastructure being built by organizers? How are resources built, and more importantly, how are victories produced in which workers are not only politically better off, but economically better off?"

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Thoughts Since Black Friday

I participated in the Black Friday action. No workers struck at my location but dozens of supporters held a spirited and effective action that a) received really good media attention that highlighted the demands of the Wal-Mart associates and b) successfully rattled the cage of store management. All in all a fun day. Nationally the picture was much more varied from strikes with dozens of strikers and hundreds of supporters to a single supporter or striker (yes one striker) picketing a store by themselves. I wanted to share some thoughts on the implications of the Black Friday strike and protests.
  • The strike was a successful escalation. The number of workers participating increased. A new layer of leaders seems to have stepped up since the earlier strikes. A broad spectrum of allies showed up to support the workers. Wal-Mart desperately tried to dismiss the actions as tiny and irrelevant. The key was to for OURWalmart to successfully show thatWalmarts intimidation campaign had not pushed the Associates back, in fact that new additional leaders stepped forward to carry out this series of strikes showed the capacity or OURWalmart to grow despite management's campaign.
  • The strike was a watershed moment for labor. Not because any Wal-Marts were shut down or not, but because WalMart's image as a benevolent employer has been effectively challenged in American public discourse. Illustrated here:

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The degree to which the strikers and the supporters were portrayed as leading a just fight by many media outlets was a critical blow to anti-worker PR in general.
  • The notion that changing Wal-Mart was key to change America and creating a new economy is now firmly established among American progressives. Before there was tepid support among many liberals who perceived the Wal-Mart struggle as just another union "pet issue". It is now common wisdom among the progressive blogosphere and academia that Wal-Mart's role in the supply chain is a key roadblock to economic justice for ALL workers.
  • This is where I piss people off. I was disappointed when I noticed that a broad swath of the labor movement sat out the Black Friday action. I was mortified to find out that some large UFCW locals opted to not build or participate in actions. The more this campaign is seen as simply a project of the UFCW International by local UFCW unions, the more difficult it is going to be to build the grassroots infrastructure needed to expand the campaign. The active support and participation UFCW local unions and the full support of labor councils and other labor organizations are key to generating community support and protection  for the OURWalmart activists that will give them the much needed "breathing space" to continue to organize and grow. Bureacratic abstention, Grudges and petty divisions blocking particpation in these HISTORIC actions are the equivalent of high treason in the moment of both peril and opportunity for our entire movement. 
 There I said it. Let me have it.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Will Black Friday be a Tipping Point?

Tomorrow, "Black Friday", Walmart Associates across the country will be walking off the job to stand up for their right to organize and to protest management retaliating against their members for standing up. No one really knows exactly how many people will walk off the job during the busiest shopping day of the year, but whatever the number, it is clear that Black Friday has brought the issues the workers face to the forefront of the public consciousness. In that alone they have one victory in the bank.

In the past Walmart was able to tightly control the narrative told by most of the media. That is not so anymore. OURWalmart and their allies have skillfully put Walmart on the defensive by frontlining the members of OURWalmart rather than staff people as guests on talkshows and in the media and by making sure the workers were able to tell their compelling stories through social media. Labor journalist Josh Eidelson has done a fantastic job chronicling the strikes on his new blog at The Nation.

The strike wave a few weeks ago never really ended. Strikes became more sporadic but continued at stores around the country. Warehouse Workers United called a new strike early last week over management retaliation against organizers. These continuing actions have kept the spotlight on the struggle facing Walmart associates who are raising quite reasonable demands. The fact that the strikes are "Unfair Labor Practice" strikes protects the workers from permanent replacement and any retaliation by Walmart simply creates the basis for valid claims of illegal activity by the Company.

My metric for success is not whether a single Walmart is shut down tonight or tomorrow. I will judge the Black Friday strike by whether the labor movement as a whole comes out of this with with a renewed sense of our own ability to be bold, think big, and to take the fight to the enemy. The question for us all is could this be the "tipping point" that both validates a new model of organizing large service sector employers and leads to a new upsurge in organizing and worker militancy? I can't wait to find out.

So get your ass to a Walmart tomorrow and lets make some history.

If you can't get your ass to a Walmart tomorrow(actually even if you do), you can sponsor a striker HERE.