So what should radicals make of this? First and foremost, we should support the strikers. We should make an effort to understand how such strikes were organised, how they've spread, and why, at this particular point, Wal-Mart workers have found the confidence to strike. Second, however, we should also analyse the potential pitfalls of the so-called “viral strikes”. In such unofficial strikes, where does self-organisation end and trade union mediation begin? How can we support the former and minimise the latter?
From Buy Nothing Day to Strike Day: Substitutionalism, Class Struggle, and the Crisis
“Black Friday” is called as such because it's the busiest shopping day of the year in America. It's the kick-off to the highly profitable holiday shopping season and, if retailers' claims are to be believed, the day each year where they go from being 'in the red' to profitably being 'in the black'.
Not surprisingly then, Black Friday has long been a target of activists. Prior to this year's strikes, this activism culminated in the Buy Nothing Day campaign initiated by the “social activist” magazine Adbusters. For Buy Nothing Day, Americans are encourage to buy literally NOTHING as a protest against mass consumption and the consumer society. Besides the obvious folly of such a campaign—folks are going to purchase Christmas presents one way or another, it makes sense to buy them as cheaply as possible—it's substitutionalist in the worst way. Lacking anything close to a class analysis, the emphasis is not on workers or the power they have as the operators of the means of production and distribution. Instead, it's up to consumers to step in and change the world.
All of this is tied up in liberal and often patronising notions of “exploitation”. Exploitation is something which happens over “there” in third world sweatshops. It's our job as western consumers to shame the likes of ASDA and use our consumer power to pressure companies and governments to play nice. According to this logic, the problems we have in the wealthier nations are not those of labour, but of consumption. If only we consumed less, the world's problems would decrease in turn.
This author doesn't think that it's material wealth which keeps any country's working class from rebelling, but a lack of confidence in our own power. In the US, no doubt, the ruling class promotes the idea that as the poster children for global capitalism, Americans have the highest standard of living in the world (and, if not of living, certainly of “freedom”). But with the ever deepening crisis, such a façade breaks down more and more by the day.
The reality of outsourcing, temp work, and the generally increasing precariousness of employment facing the global working class has undoubtedly hit home. And, consequently, people are starting to fight back.
Understanding the Players Behind the Strikes
Before continuing, it's worth noting that there can be no doubt that salts from American trade unions have been gaining employment at Wal-Mart for years. Wal-Mart, despite its incessantly aggressive anti-union stance, would be a massive prize in terms of dues money. The boost in prominence for the union who 'broke' the chain would be massive.
For their part, Wal-Mart has suggested that the UFCW (for English readers, think USDAW. Yeah, that shit.) is behind the coming strikes. And in 2009 the CEO of Wal-Mart and the the leader of the massive Service Employers International Union issued a joint statement in support of President Obama's healthcare reforms.
In any case, the first strikes which have led us here began when outsourced non-union warehouse workers walked off the job in California. The workers were associated with Warehouse Workers United. WWU are, in turn, supported by Change to Win, a large breakaway group from the main American trade union federation, the AFL-CIO. As part of the strike, the workers began a fifty mile “pilgrimage” where they were supported by community organisations and faith groups.
Following this, more non-union outsourced warehouse workers in Indiana walked off the job, struck for three weeks, and won their main demands. And in an unheard development, the workers returned with full back pay for days missed due to the strike.
This time, the workers were supported by a workers centre associated with the independent trade union UE. UE is generally considered to be, in American parlance, the “best of the business unions”. The union is more democratic, more left-wing, and less tied to the Democratic Party. It's also more likely to engage in direct action and challenge anti-worker laws. It's even willing to fight without recognition and as a minority union.
Interestingly, in both cases the workers made Wal-Mart and not their direct employer the public target. Tactics like supply-chain organising and direct action by a non-unionised workforce, long advocated by radicals, made a distinct appearance in these strikes. None of this is to say that the organisers of these strikes were radicals—I have no evidence one way or the other—or that such struggles won't eventually be recuperated. But it is to say that there is at least a latent radicalism within the strike wave.
From the warehouses to the stores, shopworkers then began to strike. By mid-October 28 stores in 12 states had been hit by strikes. It's a safe bet to say that various trade unions, groups, and probably even some self-organisation has been behind the scenes in these stoppages.
Since the early retailworker actions in Southern California, a group calling itself OUR Walmart claimed to be supporting the strikers. Wal-Mart, for their part, have filed for an injuction against the planned Black Friday strikes and demonstrations. The company alleges that the OUR Walmart is a project of the UFCW and that the protests constitute illegal pickets.
The Black Friday Wal-Mart strike wave could prove to be a watershed moment in US labour history. It could be a rebirth of American labour, inspiring other service and retail workers to begin organising on the job. Or it could more of the same: trade unions harvesting the inevitable anger that bubbles up on the shopfloor and using it to prop up themselves as the representatives of labour.
So, as radicals, what can we do? For one, go to Friday's pickets and protests. Begin making contacts with the striking workers. Talk to them about about material issues and don't lecture them about politics. Instead, offer to support them in ways and with actions that the trade unions won't.
Deeper political conversations will develop from there. Besides helping to push for more militant actions we can help to inoculate the workers against not only the inevitable backlash they'll face from management, but from the inevitable sell-outs they'll experience if trade unions are allowed to monopolise future actions.
Sorry admins, few more edits
Sorry admins, few more edits on typos and such, if you'd be so kind....
Bloggers can approve their
Bloggers can approve their edits themselves now
Took a little while to figure
Took a little while to figure it out, but I'm glad we've that got power now. Thanks Steven.
I'm working tommorow and my
I'm working tommorow and my workplace is right next to a Wal Mart. Is there anyway to find out if there will be a picket there?
Try this, input your
Try this, input your zipcode
I wrote a short populist-y
I wrote a short populist-y article (that fits on both sides of a standard A4 sheet of paper) tonight in preparation for tomorrow's strikes for a new blog project I just started working on. I plan on visiting multiple stores to see whats going on and talk to the workers. Used to work for WM, still know a couple people that work there. Much of it seems to have originally been years in the making by UFCW's corporate campaign (trying to stop the building of new WM's, raise 'awareness' of working conditions and pay/benefits, counter WM propaganda, build coalitions, sign up current and former workers to the campaign, etc.). I can tell you that when I worked there there was never time for anyone to contemplate a union; mass firings were common, unbelievably high turnover, blatant safety violations, intimidation via speedup, arbitrary work assignments that change daily, boss playing favorites, etc. Slapped IWW stickers all over the place, handed out a couple issues of IW before finally quitting. Most of the coordination seems to be from UFCW and CtW allies (communication/coordination websites online, glossy signs and pickets, t-shirts, prepared slogans, organized 'prayer vigils' [not kidding-look at SEIU's site!])- but their loose control over the affair, and the odd situation since Taft-Hartley and co. don't apply to non-unionized workers, means that the strikers have a hell of a lot more power and potential than they, at this moment, probably realize.
"Before the sun ever thought of shining down on us today, tens of thousands of Walmart workers were preparing for an instrumental confrontation with the largest private employer in the United States. Some were motivated by the disgust of spending another day working for a company that provides poverty level pay and benefits. Others want to break the cycle of virulent anti-union chauvinism that the 1%, who count among their number the filthy rich Walton family, rains down on their workers through captive audience meetings, anti-labor videos shown to new hires, the wiping out of entire departments (the meat cutters) and stores because they showed signs of organizing. Regardless of the initial reason for picking up a picket sign and braving the likely outcomes of strike action (intimidation and retaliation up to and including being fired), workers across this vast country are telling the boss to go to hell (and take the humiliating uniforms with you). But if there is any chance at bringing this retail colossus to its knees, it rests with the democratic organization and coordination of the workers.
Many organizations will participate in the strike action as a means to show solidarity with the Walmart workers. Some will encourage unionization, some will encourage workers to create bottom-up radical unions to fight with unconventional, direct action tactics for a higher standard of living. Some may even ask the workers to support local electoral campaigns of politicians who are ‘friends of the 99%’, ‘friends of labor’, who will scrutinize and regulate what Walmart does and where it can build its stores through state legislatures and city councils. A lot of people will suggest a lot of things, but the common denominator between them is that they ask the workers to cede their fight to someone else; a political party, a union, politicians. We are seeing at companies like Hostess Brands what happens when workers hand off their struggles to someone else without turning to each other for solidarity. There are 10 unions at Hostess Brands, and only 1 is bravely struggling, using the strike weapon to fight the boss. The answer to a successful fight back against corporate interests is spreading the strike, horizontally, to all nearby workers. If your Walmart is hit with the strike today, send one of your own to neighboring businesses; bring other workers out in solidarity with you. Link up with other workers engaged in struggle, communicate your tactics and your demands, spread it and build it until you’ve all won. Raise the standards for everyone bringing home a paycheck.
You have numerous options available to you. Instead of letting ‘representatives’ make those decisions for you, elect delegates from among your fellow striking workers, form strike committees, make decisions through a General Assembly where every worker has an opportunity to be heard and make contributions to the decision making process. Your fellow workers around the world, whether it’s Chinese factory workers at Honda and Foxconn, Greek workers in the public sector, or the miners in Spain, are taking over their own struggles and acting with the militant spirit that wins every successful industrial action. They are most successful when they elect their own worker-delegates, form committees to direct the struggle, strike and occupy tactically. You have the power to echo the call of militant class struggle that is being heard around the globe. No one can take away your dignity, take away from the quality of life you earn everyday through your labor. Make them pay for years of threats to cut your pay and benefits, years of lost wages, years of stolen break and lunch times, years of firing your co-workers without just cause, years of denying you a living wage, usable healthcare benefits and a reliable pension. The only thing the Walton’s and their puppets in corporate understand is the bottom line. Make them hurt for money this holiday, make the sales projections look like wasted paper. Without your labor they have nothing. It’s time they understand that- in the clearest light of day when you tell them, “I’ve had enough,” by withdrawing that labor. Strike until they’re the ones begging for a compromise; and then continue to strike, organize, occupy until you’ve won.
Notes from a former Walmart worker"
Quote: [Trade union's] loose
I will say on your leaflet though, comrade, it's definitely good, but the language is really flowery. For what it's worth, when we write for the general public, I think it's worth taking an Orwell sort of approach: never using a complicated word when a simpler one will do and always striving to keep sentences and paragraphs short and concise.
here is an interesting short
here is an interesting short film on the recent warehouse workers strike in Chicago, and how they were supported by the teachers who were also striking at the same time. while there is the usual reformist/non-radical stuff ('we just want our fair share', 'i come here with the will to work, not a free handout' etc.), there are positive moments where it isn't just about working conditions but also general worsening life conditions, their knowledge of their power and position within the global supply chain, as well as the cross-sector solidarity with the striking teachers
Gonna read after work. I'll
Gonna read after work. I'll pass it along in the meanwhile.
Any updates from our American
Any updates from our American posters on how the strikes are going? Or even better, report backs from picket lines?
Heading out now. Since my
Heading out now. Since my city doesn't have one, I'll have to drive out to the 'burbs. Might be able to check out 3 today. Please post any news of actions at Walmarts elsewhere that I can pass along to protestors at these stores.
Had CNN on earlier
Had CNN on earlier today....they were reporting of a place in Maryland....the in-studio person kept pushing the on-site reporter to determine numbers of Walmart workers versus others. I suspect this will be a tact that news media will play up..... and the company as well...one can prolly expect there to be certain hot spot locations, with others being cold or chilled over over warm
But the question of worker involvement (the "union" striking the bosses, not the workers*) will be of overall interest. And how the issues are framed throughout the day and post-Friday will be interesting. Additionally, will actual strikes or walk-outs be in certain sectors of the chain (warehousing, not retail or limited?)Also, will post-Friday begin to see a surge in worker interest in the campaign and momentum to build on that. This remains to be seen, of course.
* This was a tactic the old garment workers unions will do. They find a non-union shop, throw up pickets and try and make the boss sign on from an external strike. Granted, this campaign is different, in the sense it is issue oriented, but some of the tactics seem similar.
Police are being used to
Police are being used to issue 'trespass' warnings against possible UFCW activists. Wal-Mart seems to be taking a soft approach to its own workers, but the usual hardline against anyone who may show up who isn't a current Walmart employee (OURwalmart, Make Change at Walmart, WWJ, WWU, etc.).
My impression so far is that the People Division (WM's anti-union task force) and whatnot may have an accurate handle on whats going on. There's nothing going on at my old workplace, or from what I can tell the other nearby stores (will venture out further shortly). Maybe UFCW had a tighter grip on whats happening than they let on originally (i.e. strike action is limited to the handful of states & stores where they've organized minority union type groups).
I appreciate the feedback. Actually, I think BusinessWeek may have coined the best phrase in a strike-related article:
"Holiday cheer is a tough sell if your workers are picketing in the parking lot."
At least 200 demonstrators
At least 200 demonstrators came to the protest at the Hilltop Mall Walmart in San Pablo, California, which is closer to the city of Richmond. It had all the usual Bay Area suspects, but outside agitators like Mary Kay Henry too. Other motivational speakers were local congressional rep George Miller.
After the appointed 2 hours, the union piecards told everyone to go home "in a respectful" manner. Most did, but it was pretty fucking demoralizing. [This form of symbolic protest was] . . . disingenuous since most of the slick glossy picket signs said the word "strike" on them.
EDIT: apparently some non-scheduled Walmart workers announced that they wouldn't work on Black Friday.
It's all quiet at my former
It's all quiet at my former workplace, and the other 2 Walmarts within an hour drive. Workers in rural Maryland and WV didn't seem to know much about it outside of what their bosses told them. Which is in line with Hieronymous' experience- small instances of organic anger and dissatisfaction by store workers is blown up by the 'labor left' and labor coalitions/front groups.
The HuffingtonPost leaked a confidential Walmart memo on how managers are to handle strikes/walkouts at their stores:
They also wrote this sad tale about a lone (and incredibly brave) Walmart store worker who struck by herself:
Frankly I think the above
Frankly I think the above analysis has hints of paternalism. What I think is desireable is to look at it from the Walmart worker's point of view, which you don't do.
OUR Walmart had 100 members about a year ago and now claim to have thousands of members. If true this is a sign of an upsurge from below. I talked with one paid staff person who said he was from OUR Walmart, not UFCW. UFCW now says OUR Walmart is an independent association. They may be claiming this to minimize their legal liabilities. I can't say what the real situation is.
I was at the action today at the San Lorenzo-San Leandro Walmart on Hesperian Boulevard. There were between 300 to 350 people there. A large circling picket line of supporters. A group of OUR Walmart workers were up against the wall with a banner "On Strike Against Retaliation". There were many activists from various unions...ILWU, Teamsters, SEIU city & social workers, Oakland teachers union, San Francisco Jobs with Justice (loosely aligned with AFL-CIO), ANSWER (front for Party for Socialism & Liberation), various groups, a few anarchists I know, some Occupy people. The Brass Liberation Orchestra were marching & playing.
I don't know how many people at this store walked out. Last week there were four who walked out. At that time one of the workers, Dominic Ware, gave a talk. When I arrived at today's protest I saw him being interviewed and he gave a talk at the end that ended the protest. He's a tall, 30ish African-American man, calm but courageous in his manner.
I think OUR Walmart seems to be developing as a kind of minority union, a somewhat autonomous worker association, in somewhat the manner of a number of the new unions of the early '30s upsurge in the USA. They are up against the world's largest corporation with over a million employees. Obviously the bureaucratic business unions would like to eventually "capture" this upsurge if it goes to victory.
After I left the Richmond
After I left the Richmond Walmart, I went to the Oakland Walmart that's near the airport. The only protestors there were the fucking RCP with their table decorated with Bob Avakian quotes. Maybe a half dozen cadre flying -- or trying to flyer -- disinterested shoppers.
I then drove past the San Leandro Walmart (1919 Davis Street, just south of the airport) where there wasn't a single protestor.
I got to the other San Leandro Walmart (15555 Hesperian Blvd.) about a half hour early. Activists slowly trickled in, and was almost entirely identical to the one in the morning in Richmond. That is, with the same leftist activists who come to nearly every quasi-labor demonstrations in the Bay Area. Some are rank-and-filer unionists, but many of those are Trotskyites, Stalinists or Social Democrats. Others are piecards, who function mostly as operatives of the Democratic Party. After the protest began at 4:00 p.m., I couldn't stand seeing one more scripted union rally and left. I've seen these pageants thousands of times before and this one was no different. I wish it weren't like this.
When Occupy Oakland began it's decline, in early November 2011, it was the appearance of these leftist activists -- made visual by their union jackets -- in GAs and other meetings that marked Occupy Oakland's death. Today's two labor pageants gave off the same demoralizing substitutionist vibe. Even if there were actual rank-and-file Walmart workers present, they were so lost in liberal social justice rhetoric by outsiders that this toothless empty ritual was no different from ones that happen weekly. More of the same ol' shit.
I hate to sound so pessimistic, but I'm expressing my honest opinion. Unless Saul Alinsky was right about outsiders bringing organizational impetus and consciousness from the outside (an ideology he shared with Lenin), this struggle won't be driven forward by the agency of Walmart workers themselves but instead will be these vapid spectacles out of the UFCW playbook. It doesn't matter if it's Change to Win, AFL-CIO, faith-based groups, or local politicians leading these events because unless the initiative comes from the shopfloor, it will be the same losing strategy unions have been doing for 30 years.
This is clearly completely different from the insurgency of the 1930s. Back then the organizing began with direct action, whether the jobs actions, quickie strikes and wildcats or the militant occupation and defense of whole factories.It was the content of the struggles, not the form of their organizations that was the driving force in the class war. George Rawick sums this up best in this essay "Working Class Self-Activity":
It's great that other Walmart workers will be aware of the militant efforts of their fellow workers. But until the action draws in more that a handful of the 225 employees in the average Walmart store, these symbolic protests today won't take the next step to become militant class-struggle direct action. After seeing how stage-managed the unions made today's banal events, I can never imagine the UFCW -- and its various front groups like OUR Walmart -- doing anything differently.
Quote: Frankly I think the
Would you care to elaborate on that on that first sentence?
On the second, I mean, I'm not a Walmart worker and I'm writing from a totally different country. I think it'd be quite patronizing to pretend I could write from a Walmart workers point of view. I pulled together what information I could, combined it with a bit of my own experience in the industry, and a critique of my experience of American trade unionism.
Plus, it's quite clear from the first sentence of the third paragraph that it's aimed at radicals and the article admittedly takes a lot of critique for granted. I guess that could come across as patronizing if you've never been involved in these sorts of conversations before. But, then again, I think it'd be fucking crazy to show up at a Walmart and start handing out a piece like this. That's clearly not the intention of the article.
On OURWalmart, I hope you're right that it actually is an upsurge from below (although your admission that it already has full-timers makes me question). As I state in the article, I have no doubt that self-organisation has played a role in these actions--as it inevitably plays a role in every struggle to one degree or another. Looking at the OURWalmart website, however, it certainly seems like a UFCW project. (Althought I never worked at Walmart I have worked at a UFCW grocery store.) I mean, they favorably quote Sam Walton throughout.
Maybe you're right and the group does have a lot of organizational autonomy and will be fighting as an independent minority union for the foreseeable. That doesn't mean the activists still don't need to be on their guard against being co-opted or taken over by an opportunistic trade union bureacracy. I don't think it's patronizing to say so.
This post from a comrade in
This post from a comrade in Southern California pretty much sums up the day:
Well that's depressing. Has
Well that's depressing.
Has anyone actually talked to the workers on picket lines or seen interviews that haven't been filtered through the media/the union?
The way the police police
The way the police police acted at these events, it was pretty clear that they were permitted and prearranged. The most fucking annoying things were the constant appeals from the union police not to "block the entrances in any way." The piecardds did everything they could to make these spectacles take on the harmless appearance of a carnival sideshow -- replete with marching bands -- and to in no way look like a strike or any other kind of militant action. Amongst my comrades, this is what we found most demoralizing; it felt like school, with union hacks and labor activists being the truant officers. As though deviating from the age-old UFCW script would get us detention.
A comrade and I went into the store in Richmond after all the activists diligently left upon being instructed to. As we walked through the entrance, we were obviously being watched by management in suits. They clearly tracked our movements throughout the store. The workers picked up on this too, so we avoided endangering them by trying to talk with them. Anyway, it was a consumeristic shark feeding frenzy, especially in departments like electronics where shoppers were 10 deep at the counter trying to demand discounts that had expired hours before, as well as trying to get things like flat-screen TVs that had already sold out. The workers were simply too busy to talk with us, even had they been willing.
Ended up at a demonstration
Ended up at a demonstration in South Carolina. Same story to report: about 35 activist types and some piecards, no Walmart workers. I did meet 5 or 6 ILA workers who were there in solidarity. I actually got to meet one of the Charleston Five and talked to the guys about their relationship with ILWU folks on the west coast, South African longshore struggles, etc. Good times. That was the only redeeming quality of the day.
Not surprising. That said,
That said, I imagine UFCW knew these protests would be well attended in parts of California, but in lots of other parts of the country, I can imagine a lot of this occured without too much union police or police police coordination. Be interesting to see how things differed at those sites.
I heard rumors the IWW was hoping to co-ordinate support actions nationally. Any Wobs on the boards to tell if pickets with an IWW presense were any more confrontational?
Finally, does anyone know of the striking Walmart workers, which groups within the store were strongest? Workers in the warehouse? Thos that stock shelves? Cashiers?
I linked to a shitty
I linked to a shitty wikipedia article up there out of laziness.
Here is a much better one.
Here's what I posted
Here's what I posted elsewhere: "What will ultimately count at Walmart will be the ability of the workers themselves to develop their association in the workplace, so that they have an organized way of standing by each other, and can build a movement that can shut down the store, and cut off the flow of profits to the company. All the noisy protests of "community supporters" can't substitute for that or create it, tho the outpouring of community support is not worthless insofar as it may help to build resolve in the minds of individual workers, their sense that they're not "the feeble strength of one". but the solidarity that has to be the foundation is among themselves."
In regard to the San Lorenzo-San Leandro Walmart protest, which Hieronymous couldn't bear to stick around for, there were efforts of marshals (including one of my anarchist comrades) to keep people from blocking the entrance and the parking lot roadway, but later Walmart gave up on that and blocked it themselves. There was a middle-aged woman who was running around orchestrating things. I think she's with UCFW but I can't say for sure. I was ill the previous saturday so i missed the planning meeting, unfortunately, or I would be in a better position to say something about how the protest was organized.
Hieronymous bitches about marshals preventing people from blocking the store entry. If people had tried to do that, there would have been a confrontation with the police. What Hieronymous didn't ask himself apparently was, What did the OUR Walmart workers in this store want people to do? In fact they distributed a small leaflet asking people to be respectful. And asking customers to give a solidarity dollar to the checker on the way out. The level of militant conscousness & self-confidence is only just beginning to develop among the workers...that is my sense. They are up against the world's biggest corporation, and they are still very much a minority union in the workplaces. And when I say "minority union" I don't just mean the formal organization "OUR Walmart" but also the actual organizing & mutual support & interactions going on among these workers in the stores.
H. quotes George Rawick and makes this summation: "This is clearly completely different from the insurgency of the 1930s. Back then the organizing began with direct action, whether the jobs actions, quickie strikes and wildcats or the militant occupation and defense of whole factories.It was the content of the struggles, not the form of their organizations that was the driving force in the class war." Actually this is not quite right. Take the first plant occupation, at Hormel. There were already a group of IWW butchers in that plant. There was organizing that had been going on. They would not have been able to get hundreds of workers to bust thru the doors and seize the plant if this had not been gestating for awhile. This is the inaccuracy in H.'s spontaneism.
I also attended the
I also attended the demonstration at the Richmond/San Pablo Walmart.
I spoke briefly with two of the young Walmart workers who had been fired from that store after a previous strike action. Unfortunately, they were both pretty distracted by other conversations but I was able to at least express my acknowledgement of the courage it takes to stand up to the boss, and I had a slightly longer exchange with one of them about the way conditions at Walmart affect conditions for other workers as well, and how their fight is important for all of us.
(I have to admit that a voice in the back of my head wondered if the two workers were UFCW salts.)
I was unable to determine if there were other Walmart workers there on strike who were still employed by the store. The workers I did see, who were clearly not on strike but were moving shopping carts in from the parking lot, did not seem eager to make eye contact as they passed the crowd outside – not surprising, given the level of management surveillance of the activities.
Mostly I just felt uninspired by the pro-forma union/lefty spectacle quality of the whole thing, including the exhortations not to disrupt passage into or out of the store (was I the only one who said “Why?” and was ignored?), and the firm command that we should all leave “respectfully.”
This isn’t to say that the action didn’t bolster the courage of Walmart workers to keep fighting the boss. I hope it did. And it’s not that I am convinced one way or the other that all of us entering the store, filling our carts, and abandoning them at the check-out lines, or something like that, would have been the right thing to do at that moment, but I am saying that I was disgusted by the usual controlling behavior of the unions exerting itself in a situation that was putatively a “from below” upswelling of workers' resistance. UFCW is trying to have it both ways, it seems.
I think there is a difference between criticizing this control by the unions, and fetishizing spontaneity (which I don’t think Hieronymous is doing, by the way.) I can’t speak with absolute certainty to the decision-making process inside OUR Walmart, but my experience with unions makes me suspect that the UFCW makes sure to “organize” in such a way that ensures agreement with their “program.” So I doubt there would be much room for Walmart workers to get support from UFCW if they had wanted to disrupt operations in the store.
I have been employed as a staffer at a couple of “progressive” and “militant” mainstream unions at various points in my life, and I had a hard time telling the difference between yesterday’s action and the many actions I have attended demanding card-check at non-union workplaces. The formula is pretty consistent: the union gets salts hired in the workplace and runs a community-support and boycott campaign from the outside. The salts are often the public face of the shop-based organizing committees, but are required to hew unflinchingly to the “program” designed by the union leadership. The picket actions are stage-managed media spectacles - including the ever-present staffer running around at the last second trying to keep the last of the diminishing crowd to stay for a media outlet that would be arriving late, after everyone had already been instructed to leave by a union official. (Unions in these situations are also extremely careful not to do anything that would trigger an “RM petition” to the NLRB by the employer, requiring a union election.)
UFCW is trying to put a new twist on a familiar formula by forming the OUR Walmart association and invoking minority-unionism tactics, perhaps attempting to test the water for a recognition campaign later if OUR Walmart grows legs and attracts enough members. I was at a union staff workshop on alternative, non-recognition strategies a while back where a UFCW representative presented an outline of the OUR Walmart campaign. It seems to me that UFCW is a union that is running out the clock, and has little to lose by staging experimental runs on the Moby Dick of retail behemoths. Even so, it does not seem willing to loosen the reins and allow anybody to go off-script for a second.
Also, I think it is important to note that “community support” for these Walmart workers, while perhaps heart-warming, is not determinative. After all, progressive/lefty/union revulsion at Walmart is nothing new, and has expressed itself through feeble boycott campaigns and Black Friday anti-consumer sign-holding demos for many years now. I hate to say it, but I feel like the crowd outside Walmart yesterday was partly just happy to have one more reason to demonstrate their hatred of down-scale consumerism, but dressed up with some solidarity with workers, politely ignoring that all of it served UFCW’s last, gasping attempt to shore up its “market share.”
I really hope that Walmart workers do feel encouraged and emboldened by these efforts to resist the boss more aggressively, in a self-determined manner, but I am not particularly optimistic about UFCW’s vampiric machinations.
So as not to be typecast as a
So as not to be typecast as a spontaneist naysayer, here is a list of what I consider the inspiring incidents of class-struggle militancy by Walmart -- or subcontracted -- workers:
1. Strike by 3 dozen temporary warehouse workers employed by NFI Industries, a Walmart subcontractors, in California's Inland Empire last September. Strike was over unsafe working conditions, like extremely high temperatures, lack of ventilation and access to drinking water, and broken and dangerous equipment.
2. Strike by 2 dozen temporary Walmart warehouse workers in Elwood, Illinois a week later, obviously in solidarity with the California warehouse workers. They struck over wage theft due to forced overtime, irregular schedules, and the lack of safety equipment. Initially 4 workers circulated a petition and were immediately fired, drawing out the strikers. After 3 weeks on strike, the strikers returned to work with full back pay for the time they were on strike.
3. Days after the victory in Illinois, and given inspiration and confidence by their example, 70+ workers from 9 Walmart stores in California went on a one-day strike on October 4, 2012.
4. Yesterday, Black Friday, an undetermined number of Walmart workers staged walkouts as part of the 1,000 protests, in 46 states, across the U.S. Here is the most inspiring one:
[quote=The Guardian]The biggest protest seemed to be in Paramount, California, where more than 1,500 people gathered in the streets to chant protest songs in opposition to what they say are low wages that keep Walmart workers in poverty. Organisers have also complained of retaliation by the company against people who speak out.
The nine people arrested refused to leave the street and were peacefully detained, said Captain Mike Parker of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Three of those arrested were striking Walmart workers, said OUR Walmart, which is organising the protests and is backed by the United Food and Commercial Workers' Union. The others were local community supporters.[/quote]
Worker from the Duarte, California (suburb of Los Angeles) Walmart store who walked out from his shift a half an hour early to join the protest:
Also in Duarte: "George Woodley, a 63-year-old Wal-Mart cashier, was also outside. He is a few years away from retirement, and wants to fight for current and future employees, he said."[from Los Angeles Times]
I liked the way Staughton Lynd articulated this nascent strike wave in the latest Industrial Worker:
Perhaps the best example of a spontaneous class-conscious strike wave spreading down proto-supply chains was the 1877 Great Upheaval Railroad Strike. Hopefully the recent Walmart actions can travel down global supply chains and spark solidarity actions across oceans among Walmart production, transportation, and logistics workers in China, Bangladesh and elsewhere.
Good summary, Hieronymous.
Lynd is right that this is the original minority union, direct worker organizing that was a characteristic feature of the IWW in its heyday. Nonetheless, there is still the question of whether the UFCW can capture the organization as it develops. But that danger is not a reason to not support the present actions.
I agree that any kind of
I agree that any kind of working class self-activity should be supported. Yet I get queasy when I see top-level piecards like Mary Kay Henry of SEIU weaseling around for the photo-op. Having her and congressman George Miller at a "labor" event means that it will be light-years removed from militancy. I don't know about you, syndicalistcat, but when I see David Bacon at these events trying to exert influence, it's crystal clear that the local Democratic Party is on board too (hence the presence of House Rep. Miller). You can be sure that pro-Obama liberals like MoveOn.org are part of these efforts behind the scenes as well. This kind of Labor-Democrat alliance attempted to co-opt Occupy Oakland pretty early on with the march from Laney College to Oscar Grant Plaza, with a speakers list that included the mayors of Berkeley and Richmond in addition to MoveOn.org leaders. Thankfully, Occupy militants forced them to move their rally away from the Occupy camp.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka talks to reporters, beside Executive Director of MoveOn.org Justin Ruben, SEIU President Mary Kay Henry and AFSCME President Lee Saunders, after coming out of a White House meeting with President Obama to policy wonk taxes to avoid the "fiscal cliff."
As Huli pointed out, UFCW has a clear strategy on organizing Walmart. I think it was fully first articulated by UFCW allies like Wade Rathke, who put out "A Wal-Mart Workers Association? An Organizing Plan" around 2005 (published as chapter 12 in Wal-Mart: The Face of Twenty-First-Century Capitalism, edited by Nelson Lichtenstein) [I stand to be corrected if this]. Rathke is the founder of ACORN who recently had to resign over major embezzlement by his brother. He is also the founder of SEIU Local 100 in New Orleans and has been a pioneer in that union (along with former union boss Andy Stern and SEIU staffer Stephen Lerner) of steering away from class struggle and instead building "community alliances," "corporate campaigns," boycotts, and media-savvy campaigns -- in the model of Justice for Janitors.
Rather than the same failed strategies of class collaboration, Walmart workers need some of the early IWW's uncompromising class war radicalism if they are to stand any chance with the world's largest corporation.
One more thing: when the striking Chicago teachers joined a Walmart workers' picket line in October, the "Chicago Idea" of true working class solidarity seemed to be reborn. Striking Chicago teachers and striking warehouse workers walking the same picket line might put the idea of sympathy strikes back in people's minds. Even though a real one didn't happen, Occupy Oakland put "general strike" back on people's lips. Hopefully wage workers will begin to see these workplace struggles in class terms and we'll once again have actions based on solidarity and class consciousness. As Chilli's original post pointed out, this could conceivably happen in defense of workers retaliated against for their actions on Black Friday.
hi all, I think this pretty
hi all, I think this pretty much sums it up.
And in my opinion refutes this.
And I think it's worth pointing out that OUR Walmart is explicitly collaborationist and seeks a kind of partnership arrangement with the company. The "Declaration for Respect" is pure corporatism, which is to expected from a UFCW-driven campaign. I think folks are frankly way too psyched about the "experimentation" in this (I've heard some wobs who clearly agree that it's UFCW-driven, positively refer to their "experimentation") as if this is anything more than a new twist on the same old UFCW attempts to sell themselves as a company union. The same union that sells out its rank and file to an extent that makes SEIU look like radicals, and that's been unsuccessfully trying for years to get into Walmart, starts an explicitly pro-company employees' association that seeks a partnership with the company. If anything it's a pure taste of the kind of corporatist ideology that UFCW adheres to. And this plays out in implicit ways too. Picket marshals insisting on being "respectful" of the company from the same group that declares itself "for respect" is perfectly in tune with the driving ideology of the campaign.
I'd say syndicalistcat is spot on about this: "What did the OUR Walmart workers in this store want people to do? In fact they distributed a small leaflet asking people to be respectful."
I don't see how that speaks to anything though other than what's clear from their declaration, choice of tactics and associations with UFCW, which is that it's either a wannabe company union or an "in" for UFCW which is wannabe company union.
I'm sure there are workers involved who are less interested in partnership and more so in winning higher wages or sticking it to the man, but the way I see it is this is a typical case of a corporatist union using those folks as a cannon fodder for its own agenda.
For what it's worth, this
For what it's worth, this thread inspired me to go back and re-read the last chapter of Joe Burns' Reviving the Strike. I was particularly interested in reviewing his comments about unions forming separate organizations that could function outside of Taft-Hartley. He credits AFT with exploring this idea in 2005 - so I wonder if that was before or after the Rathke piece Hieronymous mentions above.
The chapter left me with a lot of questions. For example: how do these organizations avoid being found to be "agents" of the unions in question? Also, Burns refers to worker centers as being able to operate outside of Taft-Hartley, but then suggests that they are still constricted by the NLRA.
OURWalmart could never avoid
OURWalmart could never avoid being considered a legal agent of UFCW- apparently, in the upcoming NLRB proceedings, it will be determined whether OURWalmart will be considered an affiliate/agent of UFCW for the purpose of future legal actions. Walmart claims the public Department of Labor filings by the UFCW demonstrate, via paper-trail, that OURWalmart was started by UFCW, funded by UFCW, and staffed with paid UFCW staffers.
In regard to the last point,
In regard to the last point, UFCW claims that OUR Walmart is no longer financially supported by them, so it's not clear that the original funding is sufficient to show a relevant legal relationship.
I thought Burns' other proposal was more relevant, to build lean & mean unionist organizations that don't have huge amounts of attachable assets...or put assets in other distinct organizations, such as having a union hall owned by a separate nonprofit.
But there isn't really going to be a really revamped & effective & powerful workers movement through the apparatus of the AFL-CIO unions, in my opinion. New organizations will be required. Time will tell.
My point, I guess, is that I don't think we really know where the workers themselves are "at" at this point. In other words, I hear a tendency here to believe that only a militant and class consciuos viewpoint would be "genuine" and anything else must represent UFCW insertion. I don't see any reason to believe that. In my organizing experience I have found that often workers will in fact hope to engage the employer in some way without too much conflict. I think the OUR Walmart members also probably have a better idea of the mindset of their coworkers than we do. And they may be taking a slow & careful approach because they are weak, few, and their co-workers are scared of losing their jobs...and they are also scared of losing their jobs, so are trying to stay within their legal rights within NLRA Section 7. But I don't really know.
hi syndicalistcat, Quote: I
I agree to an extent, what I was saying is I think the issue doesn't just come down to UFCW insertion. And frankly I don't have a problem with unions inserting themselves, the problem I have is with the specific unions in questions, in this case UFCW... but apart from, even without the union's involvement OUR Walmart is clearly striving for a partnership with Walmart. As said, I see nothing new in this except some tactical experimentation, which unlike some comrades I don't find any reason to be inspired about in this case.
As an FYI, the very recent
As an FYI, the very recent fire which killed 112 Bangladeshi garment workers was in a factory which does contract work for Walmart and other large US retailers: http://worldnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/11/24/15420144-fire-sweeps-clothing-factory-in-bangladesh-more-than-100-killed?lite
syndicalist wrote: As an FYI,
So many things are similar to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. Time for some solidarity actions down Walmart supply chains.
hi kevin, Quote: I agree to
I totally agree with you on this point. My point was that (1) I wasn't sure to what extent UFCW controlls OUR Walmart, and (2) I think a conservative partnership mentality can exist among workers without being imposed by a partnership oriented business union. When I tried to organize a union at a weekly newspaper, some people wanted an independent union because they hoped the owner would be more amenable, they had more of a partnership mentality. On the other hand, there were other workers who were willing to take direct action (which we did).
I only support the effort because I support the workers taking action, in principle. Insofar as they have a "partnership" oriented mindset...and one gets that feeling from reading the OUR Walmart website...that doesn't mean they shouldn't be supported. For one thing, Walmart doesn't want partnership, and we don't know where their consciousness will go in the future. My point is that it is the worker self-activity itself that should be supported, even if we don't entirely agree with their current mindset, but we also should be looking to find out what sort of control UFCW is exerting here. In other words, is this something where the UFCW is doing "mobilizing" & controlling behind the scenes or is it something where the workers themselves are getting together and deciding on things? Or something in between? I just don't know the answer to this question.
hey cat, Agreed on all
Agreed on all points, so I'll leave it there. I think it's clear that this is a big deal and we don't know where it will go, I just think folks need to be wary of jumping on every new bandwagon that comes their way just because it's a big deal. I'm all for supporting the workers for taking action etc., just think some folks are quick to blow out of proportion either the scale of the actions or the radical-ness of the campaign.
There are precedent examples
There are precedent examples in American labor history of political-economic organizations fulfilling roles typically found in trade unions: the IWW's Agricultural Worker's Organization (IWW-AWO), the Trade Union Educational League (TUEL) and Trade Union Unity League (TUUL). The pamphlet recently published called, "Solidarity Unionism At Starbucks," describes the loopholes in US labor law which allow such organizations to operate. The crux of the pamphlet is that Section 7a of the Wagner Act legally allows non-union workers to organize, strike, freely speak and assemble, otherwise engage in direct action tactics (to an extent). The logic is that unorganized workers act out, call unfair labor practice (ULP) strikes, and demand recognition of a collective bargaining agent via Section 9 of the same law.
"In the minds of most union organizers and administrators of the Act, the pieces fit together this way: Section 7 (especially the words that guarantee the right to form a union) is what workers do before a union is recognized; Section 9 is how unions put themselves in position to act on behalf of their membership after a Labor Board [NLRB] election."
As long as there are no recognized agents to enforce collective bargaining, there is less redress for a company under siege to get court injunctions, Federal involvement in issuing fines to the worker's organization, etc. The UFCW has tried traditional tactics to approach Walmart for the kind of partnership arrangement described above, but it hasn't worked in the US. Now they're trying the minority approach, but the goal is the same: it's said that Walmart is unionized in some fashion in every country it operates except the US (after closing 2 Canadian Walmarts that organized, there is still 1 left so I guess it counts).
It looks like the IWW is doing something similar to the AWO now with the Food & Retail Worker's Union (amalgamation of I.U.'s 460, 640 & 660). The original plan for the AWO was to sign up members when they worked in the field, but keep them as members when the harvest was finished (so when they went to work in rural towns, they could continue to represent the quasi-union in a different way). Without trying to negotiate directly with individual bosses and landowners, they inflicted direct action tactics to raise the standards for the industry, which spilled over into the city and town jobs members would take outside the harvest season. The only problem is that the IWW filed papers with the Department of Labor to be a recognized collective bargaining agent, so even if the FRWU combination union attempted to take a minoritarian approach at Walmart (which is an interesting parallel to the AWO in that retail and service work is just as precarious and may involve jumping from job to job in a short period of time), they could still be liable to all of the penalties of Taft-Hartley/LMRA etc. Plus lots of tactics would be considered illegal (mass picketing, sympathy strikes, secondary boycotts). As a formally legal union, injunctions and fines could be issued depending on the circumstances.
TUUL type tactics are just as interesting to contemplate as AWO type tactics. Even though it wasn't officially a union, TUUL signed up thousands of members and staged large strikes in the basic industries (pre-CIO). An organization that is not registered with the Dept. of Labor as a union, and which doesn't attempt to gain access to such status via Section 9, wouldn't be held accountable under the LMRA or other labor laws. It probably wouldn't take long for state action to try and fit such a group into the legal union status (and issue injunctions & penalties), but to get it off the ground it could work for awhile.
Either way the Black Friday events show that some Walmart workers are seeking expression through struggle (which I can appreciate having been politicized by the experience of working there myself, and ended up joining the IWW before quitting WM for the last time) and are willing to walk-out/strike. It looks like things are still very preliminary for the US section of WM, so there's still plenty of time and room for militant and radical discussion.
devoration1, interesting post. I'm not sure i follow you re distinction between IWW and TUUL. TUUL was made up of various industrial unions, such as the Cannery & Agricultural Workers Industrial Union which conducted large strikes in California circa 1933, as in the cotton industry. Why would there have been any difference in the legal status of these unions and the IWW?
The CP had reportedly gained about 2,000 militants out of the IWW split in 1924 and presumably these people were in TUUL, and probably were still using organizing methods they'd learned in the IWW. The TUUL defined itself as a revolutionary class union. The TUUL as a federation had a hierarchical structure. There was an elected body of perhaps a few hundred delegates, who elected the 15 member executive committee. This committee was tied directly to the CP, and was one of the means thru which the party controlled the TUUL.
Quote: Insofar as they [OUR
I don't think anybody's said that tho, have they?
You sort of draw the distinction yourself, but of course we can support workers while being critical of the organisations to which they belong. In fact, from the first paragraph of the article: "In such unofficial strikes, where does self-organisation end and trade union mediation begin? How can we support the former and minimise the latter?"
Of course they don't want partnership yet. I mean, this is historically the role that trade unions perform for capital: Employers fight to keep any sort of union out until workers' self-activity becomes a problem for them. At that point, capital become amenable to trade unions (which despite rhetoric one way or another are inherently collaborationist organisations) which offer a controlled and managable framework for dealing with shopfloor discontent.
I think the TUUL is an
I think the TUUL is an interesting subject only because of its beginnings- which took the core group of the 'militant minority' (led out of the IWW into the SNLA then the TUEL) and built TUUL into a mass organization containing both militants in various industries as well as skeletons of industrial unions (when it got big) that led strikes in various industries. AWO is a better example tho- no contracts, no recognition, but organized direct action in a more or less geographical way, letting members keep their membership and remain active even after harvest season (and thus bringing the struggle to nearby rural towns with them), then back again to the fields. I'm not sure if TUUL ever signed collective bargaining agreements (I'd assume they did before folding into CIO), but a group formed in a similar fashion (pro-revolutionaries and workplace militants) that was protected by Section 7 of the NLRA without trying to become a bargaining agent or sign contracts under Section 9 could conceivably avoid the prohibitions of Taft-Hartley and government scrutiny of the LMRDA- and do things similar to what happened on 'black friday' (without the media people and piecards). Like OURWalmart just not formed by a union, not seeking to eventually get a union recognized, but still organizing for direct action, running strikes and so on. You're definitely right that TUUL isn't a model organization.
Interesting comments and
Interesting comments and observations. Candidly, while I share many of the criticisms, I often times feel criticisms need to have some constructive suggestions as well.
That said, one of the ways libertarian workers might be able to be of some influence is by salting (or as us old farts used to call it..."industrial concentration"). Not for the UFCW, but in an effort to, perhaps, influence on-the-graound OURWalmart shop committees (or build shop committees) on in an independent direction, away from a more collaborative boss-worker relationship (like even trying to change the whole concept of "associate") and other such stuff.
Gots to go...... Oh .....
On another track....Glad to see that the IL "Warehouse Workers United" commented on the horrible fire in Bangladesh:
Quote: Employers fight to
I think the reality is more along a spectrum and less either/or. In that sense your comment is a bit too metaphysical. When the CIO unions were being built they were often out-organized by the AFL in the sense that the AFL had more experience at "organizing the employers" and the employers preferred dealing with bureaucrats who would make cozy backroom deals, and keep out a more militant & democratic organization. And yet we know what happened with big CIO unions down the road...
I suppose for us the question is really how workers can keep their autonomy, not end up subject to one of these bureaucratic entities that are independent of the workers to do this kind of deal making. It's tricky because negotiations are inevitable because there are things workers want.
Another thing that happened in the '30s is that some "company unions" were taken over and became, at least for awhile, more democratic & militant. This happened to the AT&T company union, which is the origin of CWA. Other company unions sought protection against raiding by joining the AFL. Thus the "company union" of ship crews at Standard Oil of California affiliated to the Seafarers to avoid NMU.
The first union I ever belonged to when I was 18 had been formed as a company union of gas station attendants at SOCAL. it was illegally dominated by the assistant managers. when someone sued in 1970 the union had to expel the assistant managers. but with no tradition of militancy at all, it continued to be a crummy company union in its mentality, even when no longer directly dominated by management.
@syndicalist this very idea
this very idea is getting discussed within the IWW
I understand. A question is, what is the nature of the salting? But I really prefer not to have a detailed and specific conversation on an open forum. I suppose a discussion of whether to salt strictly as IWW or independent would be of interest to that internal conversation. Personally, if I was of an age and situation to participate, I'd prolly go independent in such a huge chain as Walmart. But that just me.
Here's a constructive suggestion because the following started yesterday and is occurring right now:
[quote=Los Angeles Times]A strike has been called in a long simmering labor dispute that pits a small union of clerical workers against some of the world's largest ocean shipping lines and cargo terminal operators.
About 67 workers from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 63's Office Clerical Unit set up a picket line outside the APM Terminal at the Port of Los Angeles. The terminal and surrounding facility is also known as Pier 400.
At 484 acres, it is the biggest and busiest cargo terminal in the Americas for containerized freight. Steel containers averaging 20 feet to 40 feet in length are used to ship everything from expensive finished goods such as electronics to bulk items like grains and feeds.
Only the APM terminal, which was no longer moving cargo Tuesday, has been affected by the picket line.
Every other terminal at the Port of Los Angeles and at the neighboring Port of Long Beach remained open for business.
The 800-member Office Clerical Unit is affiliated with the ILWU, the union that handles cargo for every West Coast seaport, but it negotiates its labor contracts separately.
The clerical workers handle much of the paperwork involved in the loading and unloading of vessels.
Negotiations on a new contract began months before the old agreement expired June 30, 2010.
The contract talks have broken off several times in the past and picket lines have formed, but both sides eventually sat down to try to hammer out an agreement.
They may return to the bargaining table this time as well, say union officials, whose major grievance was the fear that management is trying to outsource jobs to nonunion labor.
“We’ve been meeting with the companies for more than two years, but they’re still concealing their outsourcing -- even when they’ve been caught red-handed,” said Local 63 Office Clerical Unit President John Fageaux.
Perhaps even more significant than the picket line was that the longshore union that loads and unloads ships at port was honoring it and refusing to work at the terminal.
"These are powerful multinational corporations who aren’t respecting the local communities,” said ILWU International Vice President Ray Familathe.
“These guys can outsource a good paying job to Taipei with the push of a button, and seem to care less how it impacts a family living in the Harbor area,” he added.
Management negotiations are being conducted by the Los Angeles/Long Beach Harbor Employers Assn., which represents ocean shipping lines and terminal operators.
The management group said in a statement that it has offered the union "absolute job security" and what it called generous increases in wages and pension benefits.
The statement also accused the union of “'featherbedding,' the practice of requiring employers to call in temporary employees and hire new permanent employees even when there is no work to perform."
Phillip Sanfield, a spokesman for the Port of Los Angeles, said port officials were hoping that a solution could be found quickly.
"We know both sides understand the critical importance of keeping cargo moving through the San Pedro Bay port complex," Sanfield said. "We urge them to work diligently toward finding a mutually agreeable solution."[/quote]
The APM Terminal most likely moves goods for Walmart. In solidarity with the longshore clerks troqueros might refuse to move goods out of the port and warehouse and logistics workers might refuse to handle anything coming out of the Port of Los Angeles. 66 years ago this coming Saturday bosses in Oakland tried to break 2 month-long strikes at downtown department stores during the Christmas shopping season. Public transit workers and Teamsters refused to go along with scabs breaking the strikes and went out on sympathy strikes. This sparked the last citywide general strike to have occurred in the U.S., the 4-day Oakland General Strike. During the current Christmas shopping season, something like this could cripple Walmarts and other retailers. There clearly aren't the connections of solidarity down the supply chain -- yet -- but we can still imagine . . .
hi all, responsive to
hi all, responsive to syndicalist and "klas batalo"(sabotage not so long ago, right??), personally I'm hesitant about IWWs "salting" for OUR Walmart, at the most I could see it being useful in shops where there are meaningful committees already in existence. I know some folks view it just standard dual-carding while others view the campaign as still basically being independent and, as I've said, more radical than it really is... and at least one FW basically suggested a kind of alliance with UFCW. While I'm not always hostile to joining forces with more mainstream unions (more so with locals... more hostile to internationals), personally I think it's a bad idea (and anyway it would never happen as far as UFCW is concerned, maybe, but who knows, with OUR Walmart... they might be happy to get some extra foot soldiers). As I've said already, I think those folks are naive about this campaign. And I think, as always, folks don't like the idea of "competing" with the existing campaign or creating division, and in my opinion a little eager to see some kind of new inspiration or "experimentation" in an unconventional campaign.
Respectfully comrade, and not in a snarky way... isn't that what you've always done since like '80s ? I mean I get it, just saying, I think that speaks to more to a long-standing orientation on your part than to the specifics at Walmart.
As I've said elsewhere, I think some of what's going on a kind of "oh how cool, there's an organizing thing at Walmart, we should get in on that!" sort of bandwagony reaction, so at that level I'm not moved by the impatience I've heard from some folks. But, that said, if wobs or syndicalists or whatever do make a serious attempt to "get in on" Walmart, I'd rather it be an IWW or else an independent thing, instead of hopping aboard the UFCW-OUR Walmart bandwagon. And if it's me I'd definitely go IWW, but like with syndicalist, that's more out of a long-term orientation on my part than whether it would be more attuned to the Walmart context.
Over the Thanksgiving
Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I talked with a childhood friend who worked for 18 years at a UFCW supermarket in an inner-suburb of Los Angeles. The last time I talked with him was during the 2003-2004 Southern California supermarket strike, which he had voted against. We actually argued about it back then, but his point was that the union wasn't striking from a position of strength. In retrospect, he was right. I need to point out that he's somewhat apolitical, but has decent instincts concerning his self interest -- especially in class terms.
He left the job right after the strike, mostly because the defeat meant management counter-attacked with a vengeance and started targeting those with seniority. He says he can count on one hand the number of employees who started before him and are still working at his former store. Management did fucked up things after the strike, like offering workers a new assignment but not telling them that they would lose their accrued seniority. Others took early retirement through buy outs. Most just left in disgust as the next contract added still another tier -- so stores represented by Southern California UFCW locals now have 3 tiers. For new employees, there's essentially not much difference from working at Walmart.
My friend is so bitter that he refuses to shop at his former store (Vons, a local branch of the Safeway chain), as well as avoiding the other UFCW-represented chains too. He now shops at non-union Trader Joes and other smaller local supermarkets. Many others in Southern California do the same and ethnic neighborhood markets have grown into local chains, and other smaller ones like Jons Markets have grown exponentially. The 2003-2004 Strike loss really shook up the industry and its defeat opened the door for non-union big box retailers like Walmart.
As was mentioned in another thread, the incompetence of the UFCW has turned many people -- like my old friend -- anti-union. Given the class collaboration and betrayals of Change to Win unions, it's hard to argue with them.
kevin s. wrote: Quote: I
Actually, I thought I qualified my point of view which I've highlighted in bold. I'm surely willing to be disproved.
If you're suggesting that I prefer independent organization over the IWW, not in all instances.
My point of view is more nuanced then that. Everything has its own context.
I'm no fan of the UFCW. It's not like I believe folks should salt or advocate for them. If IWW
or no-OurWalmart independent committees spring up throughout the chain, then I would support them, of course. I'm not so sure of that happening and so, in the meanwhile, what is a way to try and inject an independent spirit based around direct action?
yeah with kevin on this
yeah with kevin on this basically... i really don't want to see people salt for Our Walmart/UFCW... makes no sense... if people want to work within it sure, but i'd rather see independent workers organization created (whether that is "indy" or "wobbly")
The strike by ILWU Local 63
The strike by ILWU Local 63 clerks has spread to other terminals at the Port of Los Angeles, as well to the adjacent Port of Long Beach. What's interesting is how this follows recent events against Walmart. Maybe the idea of fighting back is starting to become contagious. Which is especially important since this is the main node in the supply chain in which Walmart goods enter the U.S.
Here's a business journal article about the strike spreading:
[quote=L.A. Business Journal]
Clerk Strike Widens at Port of L.A.
By James Rufus Koren Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Striking port clerks on Wednesday shut down most container terminals at the local ports. Three of six terminals at the Port of Long Beach remain open, while just one of seven terminals is open at the Port of Los Angeles.
The strike by office clerks, members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union’s Local 63 Office and Clerical Unit, or OCU, has now become the largest strike at the port in a decade. It began Tuesday at a single terminal in Los Angeles and spread Wednesday afternoon. Longshore workers are honoring the clerical workers’ picket lines.
The longshore action came despite a Tuesday ruling by a local labor arbitrator who said they should not honor the pickets. That ruling has been appealed to an arbitrator who oversees labor issues for all West Coast ports.
Representatives for the union and the Los Angeles/Long Beach Harbor Employers Association, a trade group that represents most of the twin ports’ terminal operators, were meeting with the West Coast arbitrator Wednesday.
The terminals that remain open are operated by TraPac Inc. and SSA Marine, which are not members of the employers association.
The OCU and harbor employers have been negotiating for more than two years. The most recent contract expired in July 2010. The main sticking point between the two sides has been job security, with the employers saying they have offered complete security to current workers and the union saying employers are trying to send clerical jobs overseas. The OCU represents about 800 workers.[/quote]
klas batalo wrote: yeah with
If the implication is that I would favor salting for OurWalmart, well, it's not. A question is is how do "you" a) constructively engage in struggle and b) gain some leverage to influence worker independence and direct action?
I've no simple answer, but to say salt for the IWW spread out over thousands of stores and miles, well, maybe it can work, maybe not. If folks who are willing to do the work feel that's the better way, ok, I'm not in that position to go out and do the job. My own initial feeling is that one might want to try an independent route. If that route leads to other form of organization (;like the IWW), so
be it. I'm somewhat skeptical, but, as they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. And I would be happy to be proven wrong.
Edit: If someone was working a Walmart store or warehouse where OurWalmart had a real presence, would folks ignore it, try and work around it or try and seek ways to influence it? I would think the latter to the extent that would be possible and in an effort to not get way out from where the organic shop folks are at. How deep that engagement goes will, obviously, depend on a case x case assessment of the local situation.
hi syndicalist, what I meant
hi syndicalist, what I meant was, you qualified it as a Walmart thing but that's from non-committal relationship to the IWW, given years of non-IWW organizing. I agree with this:
Which is why I'm also not particularly moved by some folks' sense of urgency about getting in on this campaign (which I'm not directing at you, I'm referring to some email conversation from wobs, that klas batalo probly has read). I've heard it all before, the sense of urgency or whatever. The proof of the pudding is definitely in the eating, and, well to the stretch the metaphor, it seems to me like a kid who sees someone else, who they have no relation to, eating pudding, and decides they want some too. I have a hard time taking it seriously.
Perhaps, if there was a strong committee at a shop where I worked. Which seems to be only a tiny handful of shops. And like I said, "perhaps," it's hard to say. Because there is always a diversity of people at a large workplace like Walmart, and there likely to be complicated feelings and interactions between the less organized workforce and those who are committed to the current campaign. I'd be asking questions like - who are the real people in the OUR Walmart committee?? are there more militant folks who aren't involved or who are only marginally involved?? what's the relationship between the shop committee and the larger organization?? what are the long-term plans?? etc..
But like I said it's pretty much irrelevant to me since I don't work at Walmart, and if I did, as far as I know there's isn't a strong committee at any local shops, so....
It would be a huge step
It would be a huge step forward if the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) was to get a contract at Walmart. It would be the biggest organizing victory in the history of the American labor movement and would be a huge shot in the arm to the working class in this country.
Obviously, the United Food and Commercial Workers isn't a radical or anticapitalist union - neither is the United Electrical workers (UE) that led the Illinois warehouse walkout (at Walmart subcontractor NFI, a company that used to be organized by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters til the company shut down it's unionized subsidiary, NationsWay, in 2000 and shifted all the work to the non union side of the company, NFI) or the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which led the warehouse workers strike and pilgrimage in California (the SEIU also led the fast food workers strike in NYC last week).
However, it's better than nothing.
Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
Greg, I think it's really
Greg, I think it's really important that radicals are in a dialogue with militant trade unionists (which I imagine yourself to be). As such I really appreciate your comment. But I'm also not really sure you've engaged much with the article.
I mean, a lot of people dislike unions for good reasons beyond an anti-capitalist critique of the mediating role they play in modern capitalism.
I used to work in a UFCW grocery store. It was shit and the union was less than worthless. I was there during contract negotiations. There was no effort to mobilise the membership and after some pantomime negotiations, the union reccomended we accept a fucking abysmal offer that was a real-terms pay cut.
Barely any of my workmates joined the union (right-to-work state) and for good reason: the union made no effort to have a presence on the shopfloor and they did jack-shit about individual and collective grievances. My effing local was comprised of THREE STATES! I had to call someone over 100 miles away to speak to my rep.
I mean I'm a dedicated militant who, while I have a critique of trade unions, am willing to use a recognised union for what I can. But the structure of the UFCW was enough to turn me off. I couldn't imagine being a non-politicised worker who just had a problem at work.
Consequent of all this, my workmates were highly susceptible to management's anti-union BS. And who can blame them?
And I guess the other classic example is the big UFCW grocery strike in California in 2004 (I think). The strike was basically won as the Teamsters who deliver the food to the shops were refusing to cross pickets lines. Then UFCW told the teamster to fucking cross. And the strike was lost.
The trade unions--through their claimed monopoly on legitimacy, their sycophantic and careerist bureacracy, and their incessant sell-outs--have done probably more damage to the cause of the labour movement (which is not synomomous with the trade unions) than anything else in the last 40 years.
Chilli Sauce wrote: And I
Yeah, it was around Thanksgiving in 2003 and with the Teamsters honoring picket lines at grocery Distribution Centers, the nationwide chains were crippled, deliveries were halted, and with the busiest shopping season coming up, shelves were empty and the bosses were on the verge of being defeated. Then the UFCW piecards threw in the towel and snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
During the miserably failed 20-week UFCW strike in 2003-2004, in a act of "good faith," the fucking union piecards pulled down pickets at the Luckys chain where workers had been locked out. The rank-and-file workers from those stores continued picketing and the fucking union had the gall to call the pigs on them. Of course, you can't be arrested for picketing the store you've been locked out from but the legacy of this is most rank-and-filers hate the UFCW. What was worse was the union piecards declared "victory" on the day the workers voted to end the strike by accepting a deal that was much worse than what was on the table before they went out on strike. The new contract created a second tier and threw the door wide open for the third tier today -- and the fourth and fifth in the future.
Anyone saying UFCW's class-collaborative pro-boss politics could be good for Walmart workers is simply talking nonsense. In one fell swoop, the UFCW sent working conditions back 70 years, to the pre-union days of the 1920s.
What's happening right now as
What's happening right now as longshore clerks at the Los Angeles/Long Beach Port complex are about to enter their second week of a strike that's drawn the solidarity of other longshore locals and has completely shut 10 of 14 terminals at the busiest container port in the Western Hemisphere, totally preventing any commerce from going into or out of those terminals at the port where 40% of good enter the U.S., is what should have continued happening in the 2003-2004 Southern California Grocery Strike. The UFCW pickets hit the supply chain at a crucial node and drew the solidarity of the Teamster drivers, shutting down the supermarket chains at the Distribution Centers.
With the Walmart workers, this needs being done too. Which isn't beyond the realm of possibility -- as the longshore clerks are showing. Walmart workers getting a contract under the representation of the reactionary pro-management UFCW means nothing in comparison.
Here's an update on the situation at the L.A./Long Beach Port complex:
Strikers Have Shut Down Two Of The Most Important Economic Gateways In The World—And It's Costing The US Billions
Mamta Badkar|Dec. 3, 2012
Strikes in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach that began last Tuesday are delivering a blow to the U.S. economy.
Clerical workers from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 63 have been without a contract for 2.5 years, and negotiations between them and the ports broke down last Monday.
The ILWU has accused management of trying to outsource clerical jobs to overseas workers that are paid far less and receive fewer benefits.
Reuters reports that 10,000 dock workers that are members of the ILWU Local 63 are refusing to cross picket lines set up by 500 striking clerical workers, essentially shutting down 10 of 14 container terminals between the two ports.
Gluskin Sheff's David Rosenberg writes, "If you think Hurricane Sandy and the fiscal cliff are problematic for the economic backdrop, how about the strike (now in its fifth day) that has shut down the nation's busiest ports—LA and Long Beach?"
And with good reason. The impact of the strikes is estimated to be about $1 billion a day, and Matthew Shay, CEO of the National Retail Federation (NRF) has asked the White House to intervene in the contract negotiations:
But international trade economist Jock O'Connell told Mercury News the impact could be lower than the $1 billion-a-day estimate. And some point out that the strikes occurred during a historically weak period for international trade.
The two ports are the busiest ports in the country and support 1.2 million jobs in California*. Nine ships have so far been redirected to other ports, and many are concerned that this will impact its credibility and drive business away.
CORRECTION to the news story: ILWU Local 63 has only 800 members. ILWU Local 13 is the longshoring local that works the cranes and containers; it has 10,000+ members.
Fuck. That is inspiring
Fuck. That is inspiring stuff.
Hieronymous wrote: What's
Comrade, while I may ideologically agree with you, I think you are comparing apples to oranges.
You are comparing a highly trade union organized sector to a non-organized sector. One sector of militant action in support of "their own". And another sector that is just starting to stir. One sector with union cards and members, another sector with small sections and locations with actual worker involvement. I mean, it's cool to call for these strikes, but are they realistic under current circumstances and levels of organization? I'm not convinced they are, tho wish they were.
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Yeah, but who knows? Class
Yeah, but who knows? Class consciousness is at an all-time low, but who would've expected the 2006 May Day immigrant general strike, pulling millions out of work across the U.S.? That was clearly driven by an ethnically limited class consciousness, but a class identification all the same.
During the 10-day ILWU lockout in 2002, when management attacked the ILWU right before a new contract, it was the West Coast Waterfront Coalition created by Walmart and other big box retailers who pushed Bush to invoke Taft-Hartley to end the lockout.
With factory production -- especially of components of everything from garments to electronics -- stretched across the planet in a massive web of subcontracting, sectoral boundries blur. The cans sitting idle on the docks of LA/Long Beach or on ships anchored in San Pedro Harbor or diverted to the Port of Oakland or Tacoma or elsewhere because of the strike are most likely heading to Walmart -- or at least the largest percentage are. This strike is indirectly against Walmart and all the importers of commodities -- including "intermediate" ones -- to be consumed in the U.S. The sooner the workers are aware of this, the sooner class consciousness could keep apace of the changes in the composition of the global working class due to spatiallly dispersed production (AFL-CIO and Change to Win are about a century behind in their awareness of this; it's as though Sam Gompers is still running the show). And the sooner we could start envisioning a global general strike that clogs node after node down supply chains that reach across seas and cover the entire planet.
I think Rosa Luxemburg was correct, concerning this, when she said (my paraphrase): "The level of radical activity is more important than the degree of formal organization."
UPDATE: ILWU Local 63 has just settled a new contract with port management. Now Walmart goods will flow through the port again. Since ruling class interests have solidarity down supply chains, with groups like the Walmart-led West Coast Waterfront Coalition, supply chain workers should too.
For information purposes
For information purposes only.
SupersizeMyPay.com was also
SupersizeMyPay.com was also minority unionism. In fact, almost all union organising in Aotearoa New Zealand is minority unionism. Here, we don't have "majority representation", and can negotiate with just two workers. Yellow unions are also banned. We can't take legal strike action outside of negotiations, but when you are in a greenfield (or brownfield), like we were with fastfood, you in negotiations until you get a deal you are happy with anyway, and can therefore strike.
Really, I think most unions
Really, I think most unions are minority unions in that even in workplaces with a single contract that covers the entire workforce, it's a minority of activists who maintain the union presence. It's a matter of how much of the workforce we can get involved when a dispute comes up and how much respect that dedicated core has amongst the larger workforce. (Which is not say we shouldn't try to get more people involved--ideally each struggle brings new politicized militants on board.)
That's not the sort of thing we need recognition for, esp if were taking on smart, strategic fights that take an honest account of the sorts of battles we can take on and win.
Incidentally, the new SF pamphlet talks about this as well.
Hi Chilli, Don't disagree
Don't disagree with you there at all. We don't use the term minority, I understood the meaning as coming in contrast to needing a majority in the US to get monopoly bargaining recognition.
I've read the pamphlet, I'm just not posting on it until someone else starts the conversation. (I think you've put the point across in less words than the pamphlet.)
Further to your point on paper members (union members, not unionists as we say):
SSMP and other retail campaigns in large workplaces are based on a recruitment model. It has been used because we've been a bit lazy, they are large workplaces and we have limited funds, anti-union activity is lower and we don't need a majority.
Union members is symbolic in these situations. If there it seems like there is a snowball, it can be easier to get people on board. It can make people feel they are stronger, especially if the boss is neutral or too stupid to know anti-union tricks. If the boss does push back, in most situations most genuinely symbolic members will pull out. There are always staunchies and people who won't react to the bosses aggression which we've found to be generally 20% of the workforce, which are often people from more collective communities, had union experience before or some individual personal attribute.
Another reason we should fully understand these members and their role, is that in many of our agreements (we don't call them contracts, although workers do) have meeting rights for union members. We don't expect that someone who has been recruited will be a staunch activists, but by being a member we can have meetings with them, build up our relationship which will counter the power of the bosses relationship
It's all art of war shit. Symbolism can have its benefits, as long as people recognise the risk.
We could do it a lot better. We could spend more time getting workers inside, salting (which doesn't happen in NZ that I know of), and doing training of course. But I think the points above still should be taken into account.
Chilli Sauce wrote: Really, I
From chapter 5:
Fighting for Ourselves
Just a brief check-in on
Just a brief check-in on this........ what's folks doing/hearing/seeing a few months out from this initial situation?
I see theirs a sorta of "friends of the workers" network the UFCW set-up:
http://www.ufcw.org/2013/01/14/get-fired-up-making-change-at-walmart-to-organize-volunteer-network/ ....... And bet the ufcw would jump on this if they could negotiate same with Walmart:
this just came into my
this just came into my in-box:
Thanks for the links
Thanks for the links Syndicalist. Good to keep the thread active, so keep 'em coming ;)
Chilli Sauce wrote: Thanks
Yeah, no sweat. The Walmart and Fastfood stuff were important events. The following period and any of the workers and our own experiences, engagements< I would think, is of value.
Labor Union to Ease Walmart Picketing
The nation’s largest union of retail and grocery workers has formally pledged not to try to unionize Walmart workers, even though it helped coordinate picketing, protests and scattered strikes about wages and working conditions at the retailer last fall.
The union, the United Food and Commercial Workers, made the pledge this week to avert likely charges from regulators that it engaged in weeks of illegal picketing at Walmart stores last fall.
The National Labor Relations Board said Thursday that it would hold in abeyance any charges against the union and its affiliate, OUR Walmart, for six months to make sure they fulfilled their commitments.
Wal-Mart Stores had asked the labor board to determine if the union and OUR Walmart had violated a provision of federal law that prohibits worker groups from engaging in more than 30 days of picketing that is aimed at gaining union recognition.
Labor board officials had been considering whether to bring such charges against the union and OUR Walmart, a group of several thousand Walmart employees closely affiliated with the union. But on Tuesday, the union, in an apparent effort to forestall any charges, sent the N.L.R.B. a letter saying that OUR Walmart “has no intent to have Wal-Mart recognize or bargain with it as the representative of Wal-Mart employees.”
The union even told the labor board that both it and OUR Walmart would not picket for at least 60 days at Walmart stores, “including confrontational conduct that is the functional equivalent of picketing.”
Wal-Mart Stores applauded Thursday’s developments.
“Today, the National Labor Relations Board and the U.F.C.W. reached a settlement agreement that will bring the union’s unlawful tactics and disruptions toward Wal-Mart, our associates and our customers to an end,” said David Tovar, a company spokesman. “Our associates can now move forward knowing that the U.F.C.W. must stop its illegal and disruptive activities.”
As OUR Walmart and the union coordinated on-and-off demonstrations last October and November at Walmart stores around the country, culminating in a nationwide protest on Black Friday, Wal-Mart Stores asserted that the protests were clear violations of the law barring picketing for more than 30 days when a union is seeking recognition.
At the time, some OUR Walmart members insisted that the picketing was aimed merely at seeking higher wages and ending what they said was retaliation against employees who spoke out in favor of better wages and working conditions.
But other OUR Walmart members and union officials said their long-term goal was very much to unionize store workers. Such statements seemed to buttress the company’s claims that the demonstrations were indeed illegally protracted picketing that aimed to win union recognition.
In announcing that it would not, at least for now, bring charges against the union, the labor board said that the U.F.C.W. had disavowed any objective of seeking union recognition for Walmart workers and had promised to publicly state that commitment on its Web site and that of OUR Walmart and in mailings to the thousands of its members nationwide.
The labor board also noted another union concession — that if one of its regional directors brings charges against the union for violating the provision against illegal picketing, the union will not contest any N.L.R.B. effort to obtain a temporary injunction barring picketing.
Notwithstanding their promise not to seek to unionize Walmart workers and not to picket stores for at least 60 days, the union and OUR Walmart claimed victory.
The groups said they would still be able to picket after 60 days elapsed to call for improved wages and benefits.
In a statement, OUR Walmart said it “will continue to inform its members and supporters that the organization’s purpose is to help Wal-Mart employees as individuals or groups in their dealings with Wal-Mart over labor rights and standards.”
One official with the group said the labor board’s memo would in no way disrupt its plans to hold protests, strikes and rallies over the next 60 days and beyond, although protesters would be mindful not to walk in circles in front of Walmart stores.
In a statement, the union said, “Wal-Mart workers and their supporters will continue their call for change at Wal-Mart and an end to its attempts to silence workers who speak out for better jobs."
A union spokeswoman said it might someday seek to unionize the stores, but would do so while observing the law that bars picketing for more than 30 days.
Labor board officials said that the complaint that Wal-Mart Stores had filed against union would be “dismissed in six months as long as the union complies with the commitments it has made.”
Quote: Published on Portside
Black Friday 2013
Black Friday 2013 ....
Boss man press: