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Vol. 76/No. 39      October 29, 2012

On the Picket Line

Illinois Walmart workers return to work, win back pay
ELWOOD, Ill.—Some three dozen workers at Walmart’s massive warehouse here returned to work Oct. 6 after picketing the company for three weeks.

“We stood up for what was right,” Chelsee Stevenson, a freight hauler at the warehouse, told the Militant in a phone interview. “We got back pay and got our jobs back. The atmosphere is different now. The bosses are asking, ‘Do you need anything—a fan? shin guards?’”

The action began when 14 Walmart employees were fired or suspended Sept. 15 after presenting Walmart staffing agency RoadLink Workforce Solutions with a petition demanding regular hours, higher wages and safer job conditions, Leah Fried, an organizer with Warehouse Workers for Justice, told the Courier News. Others then walked off the job in solidarity.

Two days earlier, a group of workers at the 3.4-million-square-foot facility had filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court against RoadLink for allegedly not paying overtime wages and taking retaliatory measures against some employees.

Workers who were fired, suspended and had walked out picketed the distribution center for three weeks, calling their protest an unfair labor practice strike. Together with Warehouse Workers for Justice, a group founded by the United Electrical Workers, they organized informational pickets at several Walmart stores in the area. In a phone interview with WBEZ Radio, Walmart worker Phillip Bailey said he was originally fired by RoadLink for being a plaintiff in that suit. He returned to work last weekend, he said, after receiving a letter Oct. 4 from RoadLink calling him back and promising back wages.

Bailey said this is a victory for all Walmart warehouse laborers. “[It’s] going to be a long way before we really start to impact their practices, but they’ll certainly be a lot more careful.”

On Oct. 1 several hundred supporters, including representatives from unions and religious organizations, along with some Walmart workers, rallied outside the warehouse. Seventeen people were arrested in a civil disobedience protest as part of the action. Walmart closed the warehouse that day in response to the demonstration.

—Betsy Farley

Autoworkers in Paris march against layoffs
PARIS—A thousand workers, mostly autoworkers, demonstrated in front of the Motor Show here Oct. 9 against massive layoffs in the auto industry. Nearly half of the demonstrators came from the Aulnay plant near Paris, which Peugeot has announced will close by 2014.

Other Peugeot workers from Poissy, Sochaux, Mulhouse, Saint-Ouen and the Sevelnord plant near Valenciennes joined in the action. Workers at several Renault plants, the Goodyear plant in Amiens, the Ford plant near Bordeaux and others, including a delegation from the IG Metall union at General Motors/Opel in Germany where an assembly plant in Bochum is threatened with being shut down, also participated.

“Even if they do go ahead with the layoffs, they should at least propose something fair to limit the hardships for the workers,” explained Faiza Hammy, a 28-year-old temporary worker on the assembly line at Poissy, who went on strike for several hours in order to participate in the action.

During previous years of the Paris Motor Show, autoworkers had been allowed in to demonstrate peacefully. This year, however, unionists were prevented from entering by lines of Republican Security Companies (CRS) riot police decked out in full battle gear, who repeatedly fired tear gas canisters at the demonstrating workers. The CRS are a paramilitary police force under the authority of the Ministry of Interior.

“If the government really was on workers’ side, it would send the CRS at Medef [French bosses’ association] and the management of Renault and Peugeot,” stated Jean-Pierre Mercier, the main General Confederation of Labor (CGT) leader at Aulnay, addressing the demonstrators.

The current Socialist Party government of François Hollande was elected in May with the support of the CGT officialdom.

The Motor Show involved only auto unions at the CGT; there was no participation from other CGT unions. Later that day, a CGT demonstration marched elsewhere in Paris “in defense of industry and jobs,” in which participants in the Motor Show protest took part. According to the union, 90,000 workers marched in 10 cities across France.

Repeated protests by workers at the Aulnay plant have succeeded in obtaining the promise of a meeting Oct. 25 between the unions, the Peugeot bosses and the Hollande government to examine the planned 8,000 job cuts, which would affect several Peugeot factories in France.

—Derek Jeffers

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