Wal-Mart foes’ new tactic: Disrupt the company’s supply lines

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Sean Higgins

A long article in the current issue of the liberal opinion journal The Nation reflects on the attempted Wal-Mart mass strikes on the day after Thanksgiving. The article tries to play them up as a big success despite the fact that the number of the retailer’s employees that actually took part in the United Food and Commercial Workers-organized event was negligible.

The Nation article is notable for two reasons. First, it concedes that two earlier union-funded efforts to bring the non-union retailer to heel, UFCW’s Wake-Up Wal-Mart and the Service Employees International Union’s Wal-Mart Watch, largely “fizzled” despite a big media push in 2008. Second, it reports that Big Labor’s new tactic against Wal-Mart will be to hit its supply chain:

Two strengths have set the current campaign apart from previous efforts: intensive leadership development in individual stores, and organizing throughout the supply chain. Social media have played a role, helping to spread the strikes to previously untouched stores. But organizers note that given the serious risks involved, workers were much more likely to turn out in stores where co-workers had already spent months pushing them and confronting the boss.

Meanwhile, although the sight of retail employees on strike has drawn the greatest public attention, it is the workers in Walmart’s supply chain who have scored the biggest victories. Strikers at the corporation’s distribution center in Elwood, Illinois, which handles the majority of its imports, won the reinstatement of four fired workers and full back pay for their three weeks on strike. A top Walmart official met with a few warehouse workers from California and Illinois, an opportunity the company has been loath to extend to retail workers. And the lead organizer for the National Guestworker Alliance, a group a Walmart spokesperson dismissed this past summer as a union front, says Walmart has reached out about scheduling a meeting.

These concessions demonstrate Walmart’s increased willingness to meet with workers it claims are not its employees. They also reflect the disproportionate power such workers have to disrupt Walmart’s business.

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