With tape symbolically strapped over their mouths, and holding signs demanding "stop the illegal threats," dozens of workers on Thursday sat down amid the cash registers and merchandise racks of a Los Angeles Walmart store, in the first such work action to target the world's biggest retailer.
Hailing from stores across California, including the Crenshaw District store where the sit-down is located, the workers say they are protesting the company's unlawful drive to silence and intimidate associates for organizing in their workplaces. Later in the evening, workers will be joined by hundreds of community supporters, according to a statement from OUR Walmart.
"I am out here on strike because of retaliation and disrespect," Venanci Lune, worker at a different L.A. Walmart store and member of the organization OUR Walmart, told Common Dreams over the phone from the protest. "They discriminate, and we have no voice. Any time we have an action, or speak up for our rights, they retaliate by cutting your hours, giving you three days off, or making you stressed to the point where you want to quit."
United Food and Commercial Workers union spokesperson Marc Goumbri told Common Dreams that approximately 30 workers are participating in the sit-down action, while a total of 60 workers California-wide are on strike. The protesters are not asking the entire Crenshaw store to cease working but are inviting them, as well as customers, to participate however they feel comfortable.
"Workers and customers are supporting us," said Lune, explaining the Crenshaw location was chosen for its "strong community support." The date is optimal because it is close to Black Friday, she added.
According to a statement from OUR Walmart, workers are invoking the historic 1937 sit-down strike led by young women in Detroit against Woolworth, then the largest retailer in the United States, which called for an end to retaliation as well as better working hours and pay.
"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," said Dana Frank, professor and author of Women Strikers Occupy Chain Store, Win Big: The 1937 Woolworth's Sit-Down.
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"I’m sitting down on strike today to protest Walmart’s illegal fear tactics and to send a message to management and the Waltons that they can’t continue to silence us and dismiss the growing calls for $15 an hour and full-time work that workers are raising across the country," said Kiana Howard, a mother and Walmart striker.
The sit-down action is part of nation-wide strikes and protests against the company's low wages, understaffing, and slashes to benefits despite high profits. A petition calling for Walmart to instate a $15 per hour minimum wage or face "massive protests nationwide" on Black Friday has so far garnered over 60,000 signatures.
"This is only the beginning," said Lune. "We've been doing this for four years. This is history in the making."
A live-stream of the protest, which was still ongoing at the time of publication, is available below.