This Black Friday could be Walmart's biggest yet.
As the annual shopping bonanza commences, Walmart will be hit with what is likely to be the largest nation-wide strike in the company's history, as workers demand the right to organize, full employment, and a living wage of $15 an and hour—and remind shoppers and employers that many of the company's associates can't afford enough to eat this holiday season.
Pickets, strikes, and protests are slated to sweep 1,600 stores across the United States on Friday, with tens of thousands of Walmart workers and supporters pledging to take part. Some major metropolitan areas, from Chicago to Los Angeles, are expected to draw large crowds of protesters. Walk-outs and workplace actions already began earlier this week in numerous cities, including a sit-down protest at a Washington-DC store on Wednesday.
"Many of us are living in deep poverty and going hungry because the Waltons won’t pay us a fair wage," said Sandra Sok, a Phoenix-based Walmart worker who walked off the job on Wednesday. "When my coworkers speak out about these issues, the company tries to silence us. For all of my brothers and sisters who have experienced illegal threats, I am on strike."
"If we don't stand up, no one else is going to stand up for us," declared Charles Brown, a member of OUR Walmart who unloads trucks at a Virginia store.
Reports and commentary on the strikes and demonstrations, organized by the labor-backed group OUR Walmart, will be posted on Twitter throughout the day:
People across the United States are invited to go to Walmart locations to show their support:
— Jobs With Justice (@jwjnational) November 28, 2014
A broad cross-section of social justice groups have heeded the call for solidarity, including a coalition of 226 feminist, racial justice, immigrant rights, and environmental organizations that penned a letter last week to Rob Walton, Chairman of Walmart's Board of Directors, demanding the company "commit to giving workers a fair shot." Furthermore, a petition condemning the Waltons for "robbing America" and vowing "massive protests nationwide" has so far garnered over 80,000 signatures.
Like the fast food worker strikes and protests that have swept the United States in recent years, the growing Walmart actions are aimed at exposing the role of Walmart, the largest private employer in the country, in driving down wages and working conditions across the U.S. and world.
"The Black Friday rallies and demonstrations represent a dramatic escalation of the growing protest movement among employees of America's largest private employer," writes Peter Dreier. "But they also represent the vanguard of a sharp challenge to the nation's widening economic divide and the declining standard of living among the majority of Americans."
Critics charge that Walmart's spreads harm to workers as well as the planet. In Richmond, California, 30 sponsoring climate justice and environmental groups on Friday will "rope off" a Walmart store and declare it a climate crime scene, to draw attention to the company's poor environmental track record.
"Walmart has tried to salvage their tarnished reputation through greenwashing," reads a statement from the groups, which include Movement Generation and the Asian-Pacific Environmental Network. "But no amount of rooftop solar or energy efficient refrigerators can conceal the fact that Walmart is one of the planet’s worst climate criminals. Walmart’s business model—worker exploitation, intensive resource extraction, globalized production and distribution, rampant consumerism, ruthless supplier competition, and subversion of our democracy—is at war with life on Earth."