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Strikes at Walmart Stores, Warehouses Spread to 12 States: Is the Retail Giant in Trouble?

Wal-Mart workers are not unionized and have long complained of poor working conditions and inadequate wages. Now they're standing up and fighting back.
 
 
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NERMEEN SHAIKH: Historic labor protests against the nation’s largest private employer, Wal-Mart, are expanding to 28 stores in 12 states. Organizers are describing the actions as the first retail worker strike in Wal-Mart’s 50-year history. The strike began last week in Los Angeles and has spread to stores in Dallas; Seattle; the San Francisco Bay Area; Miami; the Washington, D.C., area; Sacramento; Chicago; and Orlando.

Wal-Mart workers are not unionized and have long complained of poor working conditions and inadequate wages. According to organizers, employees are protesting company attempts to, quote, "silence and retaliate against workers for speaking out for improvements on the job." This is Wal-Mart associate Carlton Smith speaking in June at Wal-Mart’s annual shareholder meeting in Bentonville, Arkansas.

CARLTON SMITH: Last year, you made a commitment to us that there would be no retaliation for associates who choose to organize together to help Wal-Mart better, but we continue to experience retaliation against associates who speak out for change.

AMY GOODMAN: Some striking Wal-Mart associates plan to protest again today at a Wal-Mart annual investor meeting at its headquarters in Bentonville. Wal-Mart did not respond to Democracy Now!’s request for comment.

To find out more about the significance of this strike, we go first to Bentonville to talk to Mike Compton, a Wal-Mart warehouse employee in Elwood, Illinois. And in New York, we’re joined by Josh Eidelson, a contributing writer for Salon and In These Times. He broke the story of the Wal-Mart store strikes last week. His most recent piece for Salon is called "Walmart Strikes Spread to More States."

Welcome to Democracy Now! Let’s begin with Josh in New York. Can you set the stage for us? What is happening all over this country?

JOSH EIDELSON: Thanks, Amy.

So, yesterday, when Wal-Mart store workers at multiple stores walked off the job, that was the first—the second time in five days. It was also the second time in 50 years of Wal-Mart that we’ve seen multiple U.S. store workers going out on strike together. It signifies that we’re in a new wave in this multi-decade struggle between U.S. labor and the world’s largest private employer. And it’s a wave that started, in many ways, this summer in June, when we saw eight workers go out on strike at a Wal-Mart supplier, CJ’s Seafood. It continued last month when workers in Wal-Mart’s supply chain, who get squeezed by Wal-Mart’s budget even though on paper they work for a contractor, went out on strike in California and then in Illinois. And it escalated last week and again yesterday with a combined 150 Wal-Mart store workers taking this unprecedented action.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: I’d like to bring Mike Compton into the conversation. Mike Compton, you are a Wal-Mart employee. And at the moment, you’re in Bentonville, Arkansas. Can you explain what it is that you’re intending to do in Bentonville and talk a little bit about your experience working for Wal-Mart?

MIKE COMPTON: You know, I’m in Bentonville to support, you know, everybody here, the OUR Walmart organization. We’re going to have some actions, I know, at a hotel that some of the executives are staying at; I think some of the stores. I haven’t got the full schedule.

You know, I work in a Wal-Mart warehouse in Elwood, Illinois. The conditions are terrible—a lot of safety issues. We have broken equipment that was not getting repaired. They just—they push us to work at a rate that makes it even more unsafe. You know, we finally just had enough, and we started to organize. We started a petition, just asking for some basic rights. And our managers refused to take it. So, that was kind of the final straw. We decided that was it, and we walked out that day.