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Wildcat strikes at Walmart China

Wildcat strikes at Walmart China

Walmart workers at four stores across China have utilised social media to launch a series of coordinated wildcat strikes against the company’s imposition of a new work schedule that enables management to change work hours at short notice and reduce overtime payments.

Workers at a store in Nanchang walked out around a week ago. Two days later, a second store in Nanchang followed, as did stores on Chengdu, and Harbin. Coordinated action of this kind is unusual in China; with strikes usually confined to one one workplace, or one city.

The strikes were coordinated by a mobile phone app, ‘WeChat’. Workers created the ‘Walmart Chinese Workers Association WeChat Group’ (WCMA) which quickly multiplied to include 20,000 members across 40 different groups. It is estimated that 20% of Walmart’s Chinese workforce are now members of a group.

The workers have no trade union backing from the ‘All-China Federation of Trade Unions’ ACFTU – China’s only recognised trade union body. The ACFTU has an extensive history of backing bosses against the workers. It is nothing more than an undemocratic arm of the state.

One worker claimed that:-

Quote:
“The ACFTU is just window dressing for Walmart. The union leaders are appointed by management. They just want us to return to our jobs.”

This should come as no surprise as ACFTU bureaucrats had signed an agreement with Walmart in 2006, that allowed them to set-up management controlled trade unions.

ChinaWorker describes the background to the strikes:-

Quote:
“The trigger for the strikes has been Walmart’s imposition of new work schedules, similar to the ‘just in time’ scheduling system at its non-union stores across America. The new system enables management to change work hours at short notice and void extra payments for overtime work as long as each worker’s total adds up to 174 hours per month. Walmart workers often work 11 or 12-hour shifts to make a living wage, and many workers complain that real wages at the company have stagnated since 2009. Since the start of July, the company has moved swiftly to replace the existing 8-hour day for full-time workers and force workers onto the new contracts.
Walmart entered the Chinese market in 1996 and now has 433 stores nationwide, one-tenth the number of stores it operates in the United States. It is seen as something of a weathervane for workers’ struggles in China, with a history of victimisation and dismissal of workers – more than 100 in the past few years – who have spoken out and attempted to organise against its high-handed methods. In the current struggle, workers accuse Walmart of breaking the law and using threats to coerce them into signing the new contracts. Several reports are surfacing that workers are not being allowed to leave meetings with management until they sign.”

Workers have written an open letter to Walmart and the ACFTU, demanding that the new work schedules are scrapped, that management stops interfering with trade union elections and ceases its harassment of workers,

A spokesperson for the WCMA has said that:-

Quote:
“We will continue with more strikes until the company backs down over the new work-hours system.”

As labour unrest in China rises, the state are becoming more and more draconian; regularly using the security services to intervene in workplace disputes.

The number of labour disputes in China has more than doubled in the last two years, and is set to rise even further as China begins to lay off around five million workers due to the current economic and industrial downturn.

This unofficial action by Walmart workers shows the benefits of social media in linking workers, coordinating action, and circumventing many of the difficulties in organising that come with operating in a police state.

Solidarity with all Walmart workers in China.

Posted By

working class s...
Jul 9 2016 10:25

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  • This unofficial action by Walmart workers shows the benefits of social media in linking workers, coordinating action, and circumventing many of the difficulties in organising that come with operating in a police state

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Comments

Chilli Sauce
Jul 9 2016 14:28

Interesting stuff. Thanks for sharing WCSO.

Fredo Corvo
Jul 17 2016 13:25

Milestone in workers struggle, first to break the wall between shops!

Annotated and translated into Dutch at https://arbeidersstemmen.wordpress.com/2016/07/17/wilde-stakingen-bij-walmart-in-china/.

Spikymike
Jul 18 2016 13:22

Yes thanks please keep us updated with progress in this dispute - hopefully if they have some success this information might find it's way and be some inspiration to Walmart workers in the USA?

Hieronymous
Jul 18 2016 14:05
working class self organisation wrote:
The workers have no trade union backing from the ‘All-China Federation of Trade Unions’ ACFTU – China’s only recognised trade union body. The ACFTU has an extensive history of backing bosses against the workers. It is nothing more than an undemocratic arm of the state.

Apparently, the support came from elsewhere:

Reuters wrote:
U.S. and Chinese labor groups collaborated before China Wal-Mart strikes

OUR Walmart, the American worker group, has taken the unusual step of collaborating with a group of Chinese Wal-Mart workers trying to fight work schedule changes and low wages.

OUR Walmart and the Wal-Mart Chinese Workers Association (WCWA) discussed strategy for recent strikes in China on a Skype call last month using a translator, both groups told Reuters.

"They asked for our support," said Cantare Davunt, OUR Wal-Mart's leader from Minnesota, who participated in the Skype call.

The U.S. organization is keen to maintain the relationship with the WCWA and believes such partnerships can boost the clout of the retailer’s global workforce.

"We can use this to collectively press Wal-Mart on issues," said Dan Schlademan, co-director of OUR Walmart.

Wal-Mart declined to comment on the collaboration among worker groups in both countries, though the company did address the scheduling dispute in China.

OUR Wal-Mart - which last year split from the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) over strategic direction - says it has the support of more than 100,000 Wal-Mart workers. The retailer employs 1.5 million workers in the U.S. and 2.3 million worldwide.

The U.S. and China groups are discussing joint strategies to address challenges that workers in both countries face, including work schedule changes, Schlademan said.

Such international collaborations are rare, especially in China, said Nelson Lichtenstein, director of the Center for the Study of Work, Labor and Democracy at the University of California in Santa Barbara.

"Large American unions have supported labor movements in a few parts of the world over the years but not in China, so this is out of the ordinary," he said.

Many U.S. workers and union advocates have traditionally viewed workers in other nations as competition for jobs, labor experts said.

The only legal labor organization in China is the state-backed All-China Federation of Trade Unions, which is widely considered an arm of the ruling Communist Party. Most strikes, including those at Wal-Mart, have happened without AFCTU involvement.

Neither OUR Walmart nor Chinese workers' groups have much leverage to force changes at the behemoth retailer. The U.S. group has no collective bargaining rights, and it offers workers free, voluntary memberships.

OUR Wal-Mart cites a recent success in helping to push Wal-Mart last year to raise the minimum wage $10-an-hour. But that change came amid a nationwide push by some major cities, politicians and labor unions for broad minimum wage hikes.

[...]

STRIKE STRATEGY TALKS

On June 20, the Chinese and American teams talked by Skype through a translator provided by the WCWA, OUR Wal-Mart’s Davunt and the WCWA told Reuters. For nearly an hour, they discussed how to engage management in discussions, along and successful strike strategies that American workers in other industries have employed.

They also agreed to support each other's actions, have follow-up calls and link via social media. The two groups have posted pictures of workers in both countries holding placards with solidarity messages on Facebook, Davunt said.

OUR Walmart plans to talk again to the WCWA after the strikes and the two groups want to meet in person, said Schlademan.

"With these kind of relationships, getting face-to-face is always an important part of it,” Schlademan said.

The strike ended 2 weeks ago, when Walmart agreed to "consider" their protests.