By Doug Porter
Coast to coast labor actions on Thursday, November 13th, provided a preview of what’s to come in the not-so-distant future as workers who’ve been marginalized and abused in the so-called post recession economy begin voicing their frustrations. The tactic of short, sudden strikes starting with restaurant workers in New York City several years ago is going nationwide.
America’s biggest retailer saw an daytime sit-in by about 20 employees at its Crenshaw store. Off duty Walmart employees sat along aisles at that location holding signs resembling those used in the first retail sit-down strike at Woolworth in 1937.
Store Managers came by and checked IDs and discount cards to verify that those involved really were WalMart employees. Protesters were out of their uniform and off the clock, their mouths covered with green tape and the word strike written across it symbolizing their claims about the company’s illegal efforts to silence workers who are calling for better jobs.
UC Santa Cruz history professor Dana Frank, author of Women Strikers Occupy Chain Store, Win Big: The 1937 Woolworth’s Sit-Down explained the significance of the Crewshaw sit-in:.
“Walmart is a giant engine creating vast wealth for one family and heartbreaking poverty for many working families, just like Woolworth’s in the 1937, when 100 young women in Detroit sat down and occupied a Woolworth’s store, and won wage increases and many other demands.
“The strike was enormously popular, because it struck a chord in the public: Woolworth’s, like Walmart, was paying its workers poverty wages, but raking in spectacular profits that the public knew about. In Crenshaw today, as brave Walmart workers sit down to protest the company’s threats against employees who speak out for better jobs, it’s time for Walmart to finally heed the growing movement calling on it to improve jobs and respect working people.”
After two hours the protesters left the store singing “Which side are you on, Walmart?” followed by chants of “Whose Walmart? Our Walmart!” There were no arrests made at that location.
From Sit-In to Sit Down
Later in the day hundreds of community supporters and workers held a demonstration inside and outside the Pico Rivera Walmart store, the site of the first protests against the company’s pay and policies in 2012.
Twenty three 23 people were arrested about 6:30 p.m.after they sat down and blocked traffic at the intersection of Washington and Paramount boulevards outside the Walmart.
A woman who was sitting in the circle said she was willing to get arrested in protest of what she called “retaliation” against her fellow workers.
“We have a lot of associates who spoke up and were fired, and we need to stop it,” the woman said.
“I have two sons and it’s their future that I’m concerned about, mainly. Walmart is setting the trend for all companies,” said the worker, who gave her name as Denise. “If we don’t change it now, the future of our youth is in dire straights.”
From the Los Angeles Times:
The 11 men and 12 women were released after they were cited for unlawful assembly and failure to disperse, which are misdemeanors punishable by fines, jail time or both.
The protest was organized by OUR Wal-Mart, a union-supported group of employees pushing for wages of $15 an hour and more full-time positions.
In a statement, Wal-Mart contended that its employees have “unparalleled advancement opportunities” as well as access to bonuses, a 401(k) plan and other benefits.
To date, workers at more than 2,100 Walmart stores nationwide have signed a petition calling on Walmart and the Waltons to publicly commit to paying $15 an hour and providing consistent, full-time hours. After presenting the petition to company chairman Rob Walton last month, supporters committed to returning to stores on Black Friday if jobs aren’t improved by then.
And you can bet there will be Black Friday protests at Walmart locations around the country. Here’s the video announcing the event, posted on Facebook by the United Food and Commercial Workers:
Meanwhile, on the Waterfront
Ongoing labor struggles at major West Coast ports have business groups worrying about pre-holiday shipping tie ups.
Earlier in the week the Pacific Maritime Assn., representing operators of port terminals and shipping lines, accused the International Longshore and Warehouse Union of deliberately slowing operations at West Coast ports. Fears of a lock-out or strike have increased in recent days as tensions have mounted between the two sides.
From the Los Angeles Times:
A six-year agreement covering nearly 20,000 dockworkers at 29 West Coast ports expired July 1. The sides have been negotiating since May. In 2002, amid talks for a previous contract, employers accused the union of go-slow tactics, then locked out dockworkers for 10 days, shutting down ports along the West Coast.
Some businesses are worried that ports could be shut down again. In response to rising tensions, the National Retail Federation and other business groups sent a letter Thursday to President Obama, urging that a federal mediator help the two sides reach an agreement.
Yesterday drivers organized by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters walked off the job at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. They’re accusing two companies of wage theft by improperly classifying drivers as independent contractors.
From the LA Business Journal:
The picketing in protest of Total Transportation Services Inc. and Pacific 9 Transportation is the fifth labor action in about a year. It’s not clear how many drivers walked out Thursday.
In July, the union launched an “indefinite” strike. But after five days of picketing, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti brokered a cooling-off period. Part of the deal was a stipulation that all drivers would be allowed to return to work without retaliation, according to the Teamsters. On the Thursday morning, drivers said the two companies in question did not honor this agreement.
Striking Up the Band in Washington DC
Federal contract employees, including workers from the U.S. Capitol cafeteria, the Smithsonian and the Pentagon went on strike Thursday, marching through Washington streets led by a brass band.
From In These Times:
According to the New York Times, the employees—food service workers and janitors at some of Washington, D.C.’s most popular tourist attractions and busiest federal government buildings—are urging President Obama to sign executive orders that would prioritize federal contracts to companies who could guarantee workers a $15 minimum wage, health insurance and paid leave.
Though Obama signed an executive order in February that mandates a $10.10 minimum wage for all new federal contract workers, the 800 workers and supporters who rallied on Thursday are demanding higher wages and more protections.
As ThinkProgress reported, the federal government is essentially the largest employer of contract workers in the country. Though they are serving the government, these subcontractors are private companies and make massive profits—while many employees can barely make ends meet.
“We want more than minimum wage. Who wants a minimum anything? Do you want a minimum marriage?” Representative Keith Ellison, a Democrat from Minnesota, said at the rally. He said 70 members of Congress supported the strike.
The strikers and Good Jobs Nation want a presidential order that would give contract preference to companies that pay at least $15 an hour, provide benefits and allow collective bargaining.
On This Day:1889 – New York World reporter Nellie Bly (Elizabeth Cochrane) began an attempt to surpass the fictitious journey of Jules Verne’s Phileas Fogg by traveling around the world in less than 80 days. Bly succeeded by finishing the journey the following January in 72 days, 6 hours and 11 minutes. 1938 – Vowing to “organize workers into a powerful industrial union,” United Mine Workers of America President John L. Lewis called a meeting in Pittsburgh’s Islam Grotto, founding the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). 1970 – Santana’s “Black Magic Woman” was released.
Did you enjoy this article? Subscribe to “The Starting Line” and get an email every time a new article in this series is posted!
I read the Daily Fishwrap(s) so you don’t have to… Catch “the Starting Line” Monday thru Friday right here at San Diego Free Press (dot) org. Send your hate mail and ideas to DougPorter@SanDiegoFreePress.Org Check us out on Facebook and Twitter.