After the successful Black Friday strikes and protests at Walmart stores across North America in recent years, the campaign against this corporate leviathan is going global on 19 November 2014. TThe global day of demonstration comes after the successful #FastFoodGlobal campaign in May this year which witnessed the day of awareness go viral and become on of the top trending hashtags on twitter.
The FastFoodGlobal campaign, designed to improve the appalling wages and conditions set by the fast food industry, was an example of the power of social media fusing with on-the-ground energy to highlight corporate abuse. The success of the Occupy Movement, as well as revolutions from Egypt to Hong Kong, in harnessing both elements is well documented. However the global union movement is now getting to grips with a dynamic which combines the spontaneity required on social media and the rigorous planning required to turn people out on the streets.
On 19 November, just nine days before Black Friday, global union UNI is coordinating thousands of local actions across the world to send a message to Walmart that it's time to treat workers with respect and not simply as an economic unit in the market place. The issue of Walmart is global and not restricted to any one geographical area – the company has a voracious appetite for conquering new markets, at any expense, so the issue has relevance in every corner of the globe.
Walmart is the world's biggest private sector employer so quite simply what happens at Walmart matters to the world. It is forcefully promoting a race to the bottom, illustrated by nearly 150 workers picketing a Walmart store in the central Chinese city of Changde earlier this year after management announced store closures.
With close to 2.2 million employees worldwide, Walmart has built a reputation for low wages, poor working conditions and inadequate health care as well as strong anti-union policies. The poorest 10% of people in the UK would take on average 11 million years to earn the wealth of its ruling Walton family, who also control Asda.
So whether it's paying poverty wages, or destroying Mexico's cultural heritage, it's time we stood up to this corporate giant.
The demands are simple:
- Respect: Workers who assert their freedom of association in an attempt to resolve issues or improve working conditions frequently face retribution from the company. Workers are harassed and intimidated by management when they try to voice concerns. So workers are asking for respect, safety and job security when we speak out.
- Living Wages: Extremely low wages along with inconsistent work scheduling makes it difficult for workers in many countries to support their families. In fact due to the low wages of workplaces Governments in effect are subsidising the company by providing entitlements.
- Employment Security: The imposition of part-time work, casual employment contracts or – in the case of Walmart's 1.4 million U.S. workers – no contracts at all, means that we have no employment security. Workers are asking that full-time, permanent work be the rule rather than the exception.
Black Friday is well known in the United States because, historically, it was the first day on which a company would turn a profit for the year, and is generally considered to be the beginning of the December shopping period.
For the past couple of years in the US, Black Friday has been a day when Walmart workers go on strike to protest the company's attempts to silence workers who speak out. At Walmart in particular, shoppers will wait for hours outside in very cold weather so that they are there when the doors open on Black Friday and can purchase the extremely discounted products such as TVs and video games.
Walmart has begun to test out Black Friday sales in other countries. In Mexico it has been coined Buen Fin and other names have been given for the heavy discounts in other countries. However not enough people around the Walmart are aware that the company goes by different names in different countries: Asda in the UK, Massmart in South Africa.
So the day of action will result in actions using the #WalmartGlobal hashtag in an effort to make people aware of the presence of the company in their country. It's time to stand up against Walmart to ensure its race to the bottom culture does not penetrate every part of our world – it's time this fight went global.
Andrew Brady is director of Union Solidarity International, a pan-national body which exists to further the cause of trade unions and oppose neoliberalism.