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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: And CJ’s is a supplier of Wal-Mart?

JOSH EIDELSON: Yes.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Or warehouse—

JOSH EIDELSON: Yes, a supplier in Louisiana, where the [Worker] Rights Consortium came in and confirmed workers were being threatened with physical violence. Their boss was telling them he would track down their family members in Mexico if they stood up. People were forced literally to work. And Wal-Mart initially said that they had investigated, and none of it was true, there wasn’t any issue. Eight workers there went on strike. And as a result of their activism and the support they got, Wal-Mart was forced to suspend the supplier.

And so, we see there what we see at Wal-Mart, which is that basic rights that in some cases are guaranteed by law, in other cases aren’t guaranteed by law but are necessary for a basic standard of living, in order to defend them, people are forced to take dramatic action. And when they do it, they face retaliation. And while much of this retaliation is illegal, much of these alleged acts are illegal, workers have found, not just at Wal-Mart but around the country, that the law itself is not good enough, is not strong enough, to rein the companies in.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And how has management responded so far? What has the response been from Wal-Mart to this strike?

JOSH EIDELSON: Well, Wal-Mart is acting cautiously. What’s interesting, in talking to some of the strikers, is they say they experienced much more retaliation for actions they took at their local store than they have so far for going on strike. Now, some of them are pessimistic and expect that if the spotlight moves away, Wal-Mart will find a way to come after them. The question, if you’re Wal-Mart—in talking to experts on the company, very few think that the company actually is restrained by the law. The question is, what can they get away with? And if they come down on people, will that inflame more workers, or will that suppress the activism?

AMY GOODMAN: Now, Mike Compton, I wanted to go back to you in Bentonville, where you’re going to be protesting today. You won your strike. Can you explain what was that like, how you organized, and what it meant to walk back in?

MIKE COMPTON: You know, we first started organizing—we had a little sexual discrimination. Our managers tried to send one of the girls home because she wasn’t throwing like a man, or she wasn’t keeping up with the men, is what she was told. And that’s what really brought us all together. We kind of marched onto management and told them that, you know, if she goes, we go. After that, somebody came up with the idea for the petition, you know, and it just kind of grew from there. We started out with just a couple signatures. By the end of it, I think we had the majority of the temps had signed the petition. And like I said earlier, when management refused to take our petition, that was it. There were about, I think, just under 30 of us when we walked out, and it just kind of grew from there. Every couple days, we’d get a couple more, couple more people joining our picket line.

Going back in was—it was amazing. You know, we got—we got full back pay for while we were on strike. And the workers were very jealous. A lot of them wanted to see our back paychecks. And, you know, they ended up, a lot of them, kicking themselves for not walking out when we did and not standing up for their rights.