Today (literally) in labor history, November 23, 2012: Workers employed at Walmart — the nation’s largest private-sector employer — strike nationwide for better wages and working conditions. Walmart, whose net sales in 2011 were $443.9 billion, pays its 1.4 million workers in the U.S. an average of $8.81/hour. A third of Walmart’s employees work less than 28 hours a week and don’t qualify for benefits.
It’s not just the workers who walked off the job that have something at stake in taking on Walmart. As these sorts of jobs increasingly dominate our workforce, we’ll be forced more and more to ask not just how many jobs the economy is adding, but what kind of jobs. If Walmart and its ilk supply most of them, families will have little money to rely on, few benefits and chaotic work schedules. All eyes should be on this historic strike and what gains Walmart’s workers are able to make in negotiating higher pay and better benefits.
FILMS: Taylor Chain II: A Story of Collective Bargaining, The Last Pullman Car, Taylor Chain I: A Story in a Union Local, HSA Hospital Strike ‘75, UE/Wells, What’s Happening at Local 70?, Where’s I. W. Abel?
Teachers in Chicago, Verizon workers, and students in Quebec recently proved that not only are strikes and general resistance and dissent essential to any democracy, they also work.
Any strike is hard, and any time that workers vote to go on strike it’s scary for them—it’s a huge sacrifice with a lot of unknowns. The resilience these workers showed—we didn’t lose people, people knew they had to see this through—they took incredible risks every day just being out on the streets, and they never questioned it. It was a struggle for better wages, and a better future for their kids. But it also became an example for Houstonians.
Emily Heath, organizing director for SEIU Local 1
Last Week, more than 3,200 janitors in Houston called an end to their five-week strike, having managed to negotiate an increase to $9.35 an hour over four years.