Walmart Workers Revolt! (Workers Decline to Participate)

The anti-Walmart movement battles to protect Americans from cheap groceries.


As American consumers officially kicked off their holiday shopping today, anti-Walmart activists staged what was originally billed as a day of mass employee revolt at the world's largest retailer, a time for store associates to walk off the job "in protest of Walmart's continuous acts of retaliation against those of us who speak out for better pay, affordable healthcare, improved working conditions, fair schedules, more hours, and most of all, respect."

OUR Walmart, which organized the protest, claims today's action was a wild success. Based on the swarm of media attention, they're right.

But there was one thing largely missing that, one might argue, every employee walkout kind of needs: employees.

According to the Bentonville-based company, roughly 50 people who are actually on Walmart's payroll joined today's "walkout" nationwide. The protest organizers say "hundreds" participated. Even if 1,000 took part, that's still less than 1/10 of 1% of Walmart's 1.4 million associates.

Seems strange then that, according to organizer OUR Walmart's website, the group speaks for actual Walmart employees. In the "About Us" section of its website, this not-for-profit describes its mission as follows: "We envision a future in which our company treats us, the Associates of Walmart, with respect and dignity. We envision a world where we succeed in our careers, our company succeeds in business, our customers…" (Italics mine.)

OUR Walmart was listed as a subsidiary of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCWU) in a 2011 Department of Labor filing. While the union disputes that the two organizations are one and the same, one thing is certain: The organizers of today's protest represent not Walmart employees, but employees of grocery stores that compete with Walmart.

Back in April of 2011, when I attended a handful of anti-Walmart protests in DC and NYC, almost every person in attendance seemed to be directly affiliated with the UFCWU. Many protestors were UFCWU members employed by unionized grocery stores. Some candidly admitted they were motivated by the fear that Walmart, which has become the world's largest grocery seller because its food prices are about 20% cheaper than the competition, will cost them their jobs.

As Nick Gillespie and I argued in our April 2011 Reason TV story, while the anti-Walmart movement claims to be about helping Walmart employees get better health care, improved working conditions, higher pay–not to mention preventing our children from the temptation of petty thievery–it's really primarily about stopping the threat of cheap groceries–the same ones that go a long way towards helping cash-strapped Americans put food on the table.

To watch Reason TV's "War on Walmart," click here.

And if you're aching to hear an encore of the grocery workers union's rendition of Otis Redding's "Respect," here you go: