The 'Black Friday' Wal-Mart strikes: an analysis

The 'Black Friday' Wal-Mart strikes: an analysis

Friday the 23rd of November will see Wal-Mart, which owns UK chain ASDA and which has an entirely non-union workforce, hit with coordinated strikes and protests on “Black Friday”, the busiest shopping day of the year.

This article, written by a American-born SolFedder who's worked retail in the past, seeks to explore the strikes: their roots and their implications for the American working class. This is written in lieu, I should add, of a proposed North London SolFed solidarity picket on the day. It didn't happen. I blame PAMSU wink

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.

Where Next?

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.

Posted By

Chilli Sauce
Nov 22 2012 23:08

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  • Why, at this particular point, have Wal-Mart workers found the confidence to strike and how do we analyse the potential pitfalls the so-called “viral strikes”. Where does self-organisation end and trade union mediation begin? How can we support the former and minimise the latter?

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Comments

huli
Nov 25 2012 21:52

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.

Any insights?

devoration1
Nov 26 2012 03:50

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.

Quote:
Walmart, trying to change the subject in advance of protests and strikes at the outset of the holiday shopping season, has filed an unfair labor practice charge against the United Food and Commercial Workers union, arguing that UFCW is illegally attempting to disrupt its business.

A non-union coalition of Walmart workers called OUR Walmart has taken the lead on organizing the recent historic labor actions, which included the first strikes in the company’s 50-year history. Members pay OUR Walmart $5 in monthly dues, but the coalition has not attempted to unionize or collectively bargain for associates on a labor contract. All of their actions to date have sought to raise awareness over erratic hours, low wages, lack of benefits and retaliation for speaking out on these issues.

But Walmart claims that UFCW is behind OUR Walmart and has organized the protests themselves. There are links between the group and the union, but OUR Walmart claims no direct association:

OUR Walmart and another group, Making Change at Walmart, are affiliated with the UFCW, which represents more than 1 million workers including many at retailers that compete with Walmart. According to a filing with the Labor Department, OUR Walmart was a subsidiary of the UFCW as of 2011.

Walmart worker and OUR Walmart member Mary Pat Tifft told Reuters that OUR Walmart is an independent organization that gets technical support from the union but that the UFCW has no stake or controlling interest in the group.

The NLRB is obligated, after the filing, to investigate the charges, but it would involve probing the funding sources, organizational hierarchy and decision-making process of OUR Walmart. The case turns on the technical differences between OUR Walmart being an affiliate of the UFCW or merely supported by them. The retail giant also objects to non-employees coming on their private property to hand out literature and demonstrate, which looks to me like a free speech issue.

http://news.firedoglake.com/2012/11/18/walmart-files-unfair-labor-practi...

syndicalistcat
Nov 26 2012 07:47

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.

Quote:
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,

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.

kevin s.
Nov 26 2012 08:14

hi syndicalistcat,

Quote:
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 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.

syndicalist
Nov 26 2012 15:41

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-cloth...

Hieronymous
Nov 26 2012 18:23
syndicalist wrote:
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-cloth...

So many things are similar to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. Time for some solidarity actions down Walmart supply chains.

syndicalistcat
Nov 26 2012 20:00

hi kevin,

Quote:
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...

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).

Quote:
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.

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.

kevin s.
Nov 26 2012 21:32

hey cat,

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.

devoration1
Nov 27 2012 00:25

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.

syndicalistcat
Nov 27 2012 04:21

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.

Chilli Sauce
Nov 27 2012 09:43
Quote:
Insofar as they [OUR Walmart members] 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.

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?"

Quote:
For one thing, Walmart doesn't want partnership, and we don't know where their consciousness will go in the future.

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.

devoration1
Nov 27 2012 15:55

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.

syndicalist
Nov 27 2012 16:03

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:
We are so sad and angry to see that our brothers and sisters in Walmart's supply chain died in a fire a couple of days ago because of something that could have easily been avoided. It is completely unacceptable that this sort of thing can happen in 2012. Its time to expose the realities of supply chains and create a new system that actually values the lives of workers rather than just seeing them as machines!

Bangladesh's worst-ever factory blaze kills over 100
...
DHAKA (Reuters) - Fire swept through a garment factory on the outskirts of Bangladesh's capital killing more than 100 peo

syndicalistcat
Nov 27 2012 19:20
Quote:
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 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.

klas batalo
Nov 28 2012 00:15

@syndicalist

this very idea is getting discussed within the IWW

syndicalist
Nov 28 2012 02:44
klas batalo wrote:
@syndicalist

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.

Hieronymous
Nov 28 2012 15:25
syndicalist wrote:
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.

Here's a constructive suggestion because the following started yesterday and is occurring right now:

Los Angeles Times wrote:
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."

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 . . .

kevin s.
Nov 29 2012 00:06

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.

Quote:
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.

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.

Hieronymous
Nov 29 2012 01:41

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.

syndicalist
Nov 29 2012 02:07
kevin s. wrote:
Quote:
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.

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.

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?

klas batalo
Nov 29 2012 03:01

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")

Hieronymous
Nov 29 2012 06:16

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:

L.A. Business Journal wrote:

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.

syndicalist
Nov 29 2012 13:48
klas batalo wrote:
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")

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.

kevin s.
Dec 4 2012 04:45

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:

Quote:
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.

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.

Quote:
try and work around it or try and seek ways to influence it?

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....

Gregory A. Butler
Dec 3 2012 15:53

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.

Chilli Sauce
Dec 3 2012 17:00

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.

Hieronymous
Dec 3 2012 20:56
Chilli Sauce wrote:
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.

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.

Hieronymous
Dec 4 2012 00:49

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:

Business Insider wrote:

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:

Quote:
"A 10-day lockout at the West Coast ports as a result of stalled negotiations in 2002 led to lingering supply chain disruptions and cost the U.S. economy $1 billion for each day of the lockout. It took the ports a full six months to recover, and the strike had a profound impact on the retailers, importers, manufacturers, agricultural exporters and other affiliated industries that rely on the ports every day.

An extended strike this time could have a greater impact considering the fragile state of the U.S. economy."

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.

Chilli Sauce
Dec 3 2012 22:46

Fuck. That is inspiring stuff.

syndicalist
Dec 4 2012 15:29
Hieronymous wrote:
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., ....

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.
.

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.