The Walmart struggle goes on

November 14, 2013

Brian Huseby reports on a strike by Walmart workers in Washington state, in the lead-up to planned protests on the busiest shopping day of the year.

WORKERS AT Walmart stores across the country are taking part in protests and walkouts, ahead of planned day of action on Black Friday--the day after Thanksgiving and one of the busiest shopping days of the year.

In a repeat of last year's actions, workers at the world's largest--and greediest--retailer are drawing attention to poverty wages, poor working conditions and bullying by management. OUR Walmart, the worker-led organization backed by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union that created a network of thousands of Walmart employees over the last few years, helped organize the actions.

Protests began with a strike by at least 70 Los Angeles-area Walmart workers the week before. The walkouts then moved north to Washington state, and east to Chicago.

In Federal Way, Wash., more than 100 workers and their supporters staged an anti-retaliation strike at the Walmart store on November 12. Chanting "They say roll back, we say fight back" and "Whose store? Our store!" protesters rallied outside of the parking lot of the store.

Picketing outside a Walmart store in Federal Way
Picketing outside a Walmart store in Federal Way

Several striking workers took the stage, including one who had traveled from Bellingham, Wash., about 100 miles away, to talk about the lack of safety provisions and the retaliatory actions of management at the Walmart store there.

Mary Watkines, a 14-year worker at the Federal Way store, told how she returned from a medical leave in July to find that she had been demoted to a part-time cashier's job, which deprived her of medical benefits. She described how a fellow worker, Kaya, was refused time off to attend a critical medical appointment. Because she was forced to go to work that day, Kaya ended up in the hospital where she died, said Watkines.

Following the rally, strikers and their supporters marched to an area beside the entrance to the store where they set up both moving and stationary picket lines. Lively chants accompanied the picketing. During the picketing, Mary Watkines said, "I just want people to know that Kaya's death was avoidable. We just want to be able to feed our families and take care of their health."

Watkines said that workers will keep speaking up through Black Friday and beyond, if that's what it takes to accomplish decent treatment. At the conclusion of the picketing session, picketers marched back to the rally area promising "We'll be back."

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