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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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The allegations against Wal-Mart include extensively surveying workers before they’re allowed to be hired, to figure out if they have any kinds of union sympathies; extensively holding captive audience meetings, forcing workers to listen to why they shouldn’t organize, something Wal-Mart—according to workers and in an allegation that’s not denied by the company, Wal-Mart has begun doing the same thing about this organization OUR Walmart. Wal-Mart is accused of extensively firing workers and threatening workers for getting involved.

One of the points that was made by an official from UNI, one of the global labor federations that was in town to support the Wal-Mart workers, is that even in countries with better labor laws, with stronger labor laws, Wal-Mart workers don’t get organized just because they asked to. They’ve still had struggles with the company. And it’s based on actions, like the action happening here, that people have won a higher standard in other countries. And some of those workers, in countries like Argentina, have told me they’re worried that Wal-Mart’s standard in the U.S., Wal-Mart’s tactics in the U.S., could spread to them if they don’t help these workers in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Mike Compton, what are you demanding today in the capital of Wal-Mart, the headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas? And are the workers in your warehouse working with an outside union? Are you union organizing nationally?

MIKE COMPTON: We’ve got some union backing, definitely. I mean, they’ve definitely pointed us in the right direction and helped us out along the way. You know, we’re here in Bentonville today. It’s just time for Wal-Mart to raise their standards. It’s time for a change. You know, Wal-Mart, as we’ve said, is one of the biggest employers in the world, and they set the standard: what they do, you know, it reverberates throughout the world. So, it’s time for a change. And that’s why I’m here. You know, it’s not just—not just warehouse or retail; it’s logistics and trucking and who knows what else Wal-Mart influences.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you have a game plan for the holiday season?

MIKE COMPTON: I know there is going to be a lot of sit-ins and a lot of walk-outs on the retail end. I think I’m going to go—I’m going to go help on some of the sit-ins. I’m going to try and block some doors, I think.

AMY GOODMAN: Josh Eidelson, an interesting side note, this news just came out of Denver. This isn’t the workers protesting, but this was residents of the Congress Park neighborhood and the surrounding area protesting a Wal-Mart being put in. A developer wanted tax subsidies to place a Wal-Mart in this neighborhood. The battle has been going on for a while. Hundreds of people had Wal-Mart signs, "No Wal-Mart" signs on their lawn. And amazingly enough, late yesterday, Wal-Mart announced it is pulling out. The neighborhood and the city council had—city council members had already said they would not grant the tax subsidies. In a final comment, Josh Eidelson, can you talk about this kind of activism that’s happening at every end? You’ve got residents saying no to Wal-Marts. How successful, do you see, have other struggles been around the country? And then you have workers like Mike Compton who have gone out on strike.

JOSH EIDELSON: Sure. So, what happened in Denver, actually, follows New York City, where Wal-Mart has for a long time been trying to get into the city limits and, in the past few weeks, backed down from their plan, again in the force of community opposition. So they face opposition from communities that don’t want them to move in.