WASHINGTON, D.C. — I had just returned to work at Walmart on Georgia Avenue here after taking part in the three-day strike organized by OUR Walmart, a union-backed nationwide campaign fighting for $15 and full-time work. “Why didn’t you have a sit-in at this store?” a co-worker asked, referring to prominent news coverage about a sit-in strike action at the H Street location. “You should have!”
A couple dozen workers from seven stores formed the backbone of Nov. 26 to 28 activities in the D.C. metro area, which were part of strike and protest actions across the country against the retail giant that has come to symbolize the broad assault on wages and working conditions of millions in the U.S. The second largest private company in the world, Walmart makes $16 billion in annual profit and has 1.3 million employees at 4,900 stores in the U.S. alone.
Walmart workers active in the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart) are demanding $15 per hour, full-time employment with consistent schedules, an end to understaffing, adjusted work assignments for pregnant employees and dignity on the job. The group is actively supported by the United Food and Commercial Workers. Here in D.C. we work with UFCW Local 400, which organizes Giant and Safeway grocery workers, who face similar issues.
The biggest actions took place Nov. 28 on Black Friday, which traditionally kicks off the annual holiday shopping spree that every retailer hopes will put them “in the black” and ahead of their competition. Here some 300 strikers and their supporters — including Teamsters, teachers and members of the Communication Workers of America — gathered at 8 a.m. on Friday at Amtrak’s Union Station for a rally before marching to the H Street store.
A carload of strikers from Newport News, Virginia, joined the Black Friday action here, which was also backed by Jobs with Justice, Respect DC and DC Ferguson.
“At least $15, no part-time, cease harassment, firing and intimidation,” Reverend Graylan Hagler of Plymouth Congregation United Church of Christ told rally participants. “People will not give up power unless we organize. That’s my prayer.”
“Everyday, average Americans are unjustly fired,” said Cynthia Murray, 58, a rank-and-file leader of the campaign who has been part of five strikes against Walmart. Murray called for 4 1/2 minutes of silence for Michael Brown. “From the police and prosecutors in Ferguson to Walmart and its owners, the abuse of power by a few is keeping the majority down,” she said.
Other speakers included Tefere Gebre, executive vice president of the AFL-CIO.
“We have our own struggles for safe and sustainable work schedules, and we stand in solidarity with Walmart workers,” Fritz Edler, an Amtrak engineer and local chairman for the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen who attended the protest, told the Militant.
The author of this article was part of a group of strikers drawn from seven stores in Washington and the surrounding area in Virginia and Maryland who spent all day Wednesday, Nov. 26, at three different stores to support actions and garner support from workers and shoppers.
At Walmart in Laurel, Maryland, workers walked off the job together. For at least half an hour, strikers carried out a sit-down strike in the main aisle of the H Street store. Others distributed flyers to workers and customers. With managers present and paying close attention, most workers on the job appeared to ignore the action. At the same time, many customers took flyers and several read them on the spot. Some gave smiles, nods, or thumbs up.
After the H Street action, the group gathered at a nearby coffee shop. A Walmart worker on break approached us to find out more. She thought seriously for a few minutes about walking out and joining us. She returned to work, but not before leaving her contact information so we can meet later.
That afternoon we walked through a store in Alexandria, Virginia, with signs. Fatmata Jabbie, a cashier there led the march. “It was the best experience,” Jabbie, 21, said later. “It makes me feel like fighting for everyone, not just me.”
On Thanksgiving at 7:30 pm, OUR Walmart strikers and their supporters, numbering around 40 to 50 people, gathered at the Georgia Avenue location, chanting and passing out flyers to customers.
“We need a change, a rip tide” said John Blair, 26, from Newport News, Virginia. After five years of working at Walmart, Blair makes $8.85 per hour. Three strikers went into the break room and handed out flyers to fellow workers there.
One of the strikers, Glova Scott, who works at the H Street store, was quoted in the Nov. 26 Huffington Post:
“She has already called in to her store and told them she won’t be coming in this week. Scott said she’s been working for Walmart for a little over a year but just joined OUR Walmart a week and a half ago. Fifty-nine years old, she earns $10.90 an hour stocking shelves on the night shift.
“It’s hard. We work in an atmosphere where the pay doesn’t make ends meet, and a lot of my co-workers think the solution is to look for another job rather than try to improve conditions,” said Scott. “I joined because I wanted to be part of a movement. I’m looking forward to going back to work and encouraging my co-workers to join me.”
Ned Measel is an overnight stocker at Walmart. Glova Scott and Arlene Rubinstein contributed to this article.
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