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Profiles in Labor: OUR Walmart

Wal-Mart has never been very friendly to the idea of organized labor, quite the opposite. Their activities to thwart organized labor in the workplace can be traced even as far back as when Sam Walton was still running the show in the 1970s, when Walton opposed a Retail Clerks Union organizing in the workplace by hiring a union-buster to “educate” workers on the negative impacts of unions. This attitude still sticks with the company today,

OUR Walmart Logo

The Organization United for Respect organizes Walmart workers fighting for better conditions.

A new organization that hopes to give workers a bigger and better voice has been doing more than just ruffling a few feathers lately. Organization United For Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart) was formed in June 2011 and has since been making their presence known by driving corporate Walmart crazy. How so you ask? By organizing protests at over 100 Walmart locations across the country on Black Friday, one of the busiest retail sales days of the year. People like Cindy Murray, one of the key organizers behind OUR Walmart, stood up to the corporate giant that day to fight for better wages, more full-time jobs, and more respect.

OUR Walmart, established by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW), is not a union.  Efforts to unionize the workplace in Walmart have failed numerous times in the past. The original organizers behind OUR Walmart knew that, in order to be successful, they must do something different. Although backed in moral support and sometimes financially by UFCW, OUR Walmart puts the faces of workers out front and adds a human element to their cause. They are not asking for bargaining rights, but still making requests on behalf of their group for better wages and more respect. In the first act of defiance, OUR Walmart had close to 100 associates travel to Walmart headquarters to make their cause known.

They wrote a 12-point declaration that asked for wages and benefits that ensured no associate would have to rely on government assistance. They also called for dependable schedules, expanded health-care coverage, and the freedom to speak up without facing retaliation (Bloomberg Business Week)

OUR Walmart’s goal is not unionization in the workplace, which makes it an awkward situation for Walmart to deal with. Now, Walmart has been forced to come out in opposition to employee activism as well as union organizing. OUR Walmart‘s mission instead is to “ensure that every Associate, regardless of his or her title, age, race, or sex, is respected at Walmart. We join together to offer strength and support in addressing the challenges that arise in our stores and our company everyday.”

The most recent protest by OUR Walmart occurred last week. Thousands of people in 15 cities came out to protest Walmart’s recent crackdown on similar activism in the workplace:

In addition to OUR Walmart’s core demands, the protesters turned out to insist that Wal-Mart rescind the verbal and written warnings issued to some 60 OUR Walmart members who were part of a prolonged strike this June and reinstate 20 strikers who were fired. (In These Times)

This protest was in response to Walmart firing 20 OUR Walmart members and disciplining 50 others in June of this year. The question that obviously lingers behind activism such as this is whether or not the real change the organization (in this case OUR Walmart) Is seeking will be achieved? There is certainly no doubt that the fight will rage on between Walmart and any type of organization that seeks a better wage or quality of life for its employees and carries any trace of organized labor. OUR Walmart is certainly not without the help of a union, but they are doing things differently. Walmart would not have fired 20 of their members if they thought the organization was insignificant, and that is reason enough to give their movement credibility.

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