The U.S.’s biggest private employer has managed to squash all previous attempts by employees to organize and demand better pay and benefits, but Wal-Mart workers, with the backing of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), are gearing up for a strike on Black Friday.
Wal-Mart, usually unfazed by demands from employees, is apparently taking notice of the impending strike and the numerous smaller walkouts that have been leading up to it. On November 15, the retailer took its first legal action to prevent the strike, filing an unfair labor practice charge against UFCW.
"Wal-Mart is grasping at straws," said UFCW Communications Director Jill Cashen, according to Reuters. "There's nothing in the law that gives an employer the right to silence workers and citizens."
While the charge is likely intended to scare the UFCW and the other groups that are supporting the Wal-Mart workers (the retailer employs 1.4 million people in the United States, none of them union members), it may have the opposite effect. If Wal-Mart wanted to stop the protests, their best course of action would be to ignore them. By acknowledging the actions, they’re indicating that their feathers have been ruffled, that they see the striking workers and the groups that back them as a legitimate threat to their business – that means the workers have leverage.
It was clever of the workers to organize their strike around Black Friday, typically the biggest shopping day of the year. The launch of the Christmas shopping season, Wal-Mart will need all hands on deck – more leverage for the workers. Of course, with the employment situation in this country as dire as it is, it probably wouldn’t be hard at all for the company to find scab workers to replace the strikers, and to keep their mouths shut about the insufficient pay and pathetic benefits.
The workers are gaining momentum, and the walkouts leading up to Friday’s main event already constitute the biggest organized action among Wal-Mart employees, but it will be interesting to watch the story develop and see whether their leverage lasts or the megastore crushes the attempt at revolt.