Making Walmart respect us

September 16, 2013

David May reports on a protest of hundreds of people outside a Maryland Walmart to support workers who were fired for going on strike.

AS PART of the Organization United for Respect at Walmart's (OUR Walmart) national day of action on September 5--in which workers in 15 different cities protested to demand that the company reinstate workers fired for going on strike earlier this summer--more than 200 people gathered outside a Walmart in Landover Hills, Md.

Following a weeklong strike in June, Walmart fired 20 members of OUR Walmart and took disciplinary action against dozens more.

Many people in the multiracial crowd in Maryland were from nearby Washington, D.C., where Walmart has been trying to open new stores despite significant community resistance. "Walmart is murdering us," said a priest after leading the group in prayer. "Murder can not only be done with guns and knives, but also by taking away our ability to support our families."

Led by OUR Walmart, the protest included the support of several community, labor and immigrant rights organizations. Among them were local and national representatives from the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), Good Jobs Nation, the D.C. chapter of Jobs With Justice, Progressive Maryland, the National Organization for Women (NOW), OurDC, and Casa de Maryland.

OUR Walmart supporters picket outside a store near Washington, D.C.
OUR Walmart supporters picket outside a store near Washington, D.C. (David May | SW)

Tanya C., an organizer with OUR Walmart who was recently fired for going on strike last month, broke down in tears as she told her story: "They always said I had been a good worker, but they let me go. When I asked them why, they said they didn't have to give any explanation. I don't know what I'm going to do. I have three grandbabies. We have to fight back."

Terry O'Neill, the president of NOW, expressed her support for Walmart workers' struggle. She explained how Walmart sets the tone for all workers around the country, and that the company is "setting a very bad tone." The Walmart CEO makes more money in an hour than the average worker gets in a whole year, she explained, and "that's if you get to work 40 hours a week. But their business model says you can't."

O'Neill also pointed out how important this struggle is for women, especially women of color. Two-thirds of minimum-wage earners in this country are women, and Latinas and Black women earn even less than the dismal average wage of white women.

"Walmart made a lot of promises when they built this store," said Mark Federicci of UFCW, "and they broke every one. They pay lobbyists to go into Congress to make sure they can keep your wages low. But they need to spend that money on the workers instead!"

Despite a significant police presence, the crowd then marched through the parking lot--to the sounds of Aretha Franklin's version of "Respect"--and ultimately blocked traffic on a major thoroughfare for several minutes. A three-piece brass band kept the energy going, along with chants that included"Hey Walmart, you can't hide! We can see your greedy side!"

After the hundreds of enthusiastic protesters marched back into the parking lot, at least four were arrested for remaining in the highway, including the fired worker Tanya C. The crowd chanted "Tanya! Tanya!" as they were cuffed and put into a police van.

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