By Josh Eidelson / Salon / Originally published on Nov. 29, 2013, at 4:40 p.m.
Organizers say 111 people were arrested in eight Black Friday civil disobedience actions against Wal-Mart, with more arrests expected at a ninth and final such demonstration now underway in San Leandro, California. Those actions are among 1,500 total protests promised for today by the union-backed group OUR Walmart, which last year said it mobilized 400-some Wal-Mart employees to strike.
“Wal-Mart workers and community supporters, we refuse to live in fear and refuse to accept scraps,” employee Martha Sellers told reporters on a mid-day call. She was joined by arrestee Betty Shove, who said she’d been “harassed” for OUR Walmart activism, and was “standing up for every member that cannot, that will not, because they’re too afraid to lose their job.”
In May, as workers kicked off a several-day strike and caravan to Wal-Mart’s shareholder meeting which was followed by the firing of twenty-three participants, United Food & Commercial Workers strategist Dan Schlademan told me, “we’re certainly going to prove it’s growing this year.” But as I suggested this morning, how today’s Black Friday activism compares to last year’s depends on how you count. While strikes were the centerpiece of Black Friday 2012, this year the campaign focused on civil disobedience actions, which involved a mix of current Wal-Mart employees, fired workers, and other supporters. OUR Walmart said it hit its goal of holding at least 1,500 protests, and that those involved tens of thousands of people, but said it did not yet have a count of how many Wal-Mart employees were involved. In a September statement, the campaign pledged “widespread, massive strikes and protests for Black Friday.”
In a Friday evening statement, Wal-Mart said, “In reality, we counted fewer than 20 current associates participating in events.” Asked about that claim, a spokesperson for the UFCW’s Making Change at Walmart campaign e-mailed, “That’s laughable and it is disrespectful to workers and supporters who are raising real concerns about low wages at Walmart. Walmart workers have been striking all month and were out protesting across the country today.”
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