"Walmart: Always low wages. Always!"
"Pay us enough to raise a family!"
"Give us full-time hours and affordable health care!"
"Walmart: Stop bullying workers!"
These are some of the chants I heard after joining protesters at a Denver Walmart yesterday, Black Friday, 2012. Instead of running to the annual American getting-frenzy of the day after Thanksgiving, I decided to extend my Giving Day to support people less fortunate than me.
Me who is without a job, me who is older than the species dirt, and whose prospects of retiring in the pursuit of happiness rests in the hands of the Powerball results today. Yeah, too many of those with jobs in 21st Century America exist at a level of basic survival. So, I consider myself less fortunate.
If you want to know more about Walmart workers, go here and here to learn about that. This post is more about an ex-70s movimiento radical's experience forty years later. Times have changed, but then too, they haven't.
Nationally, the protests were led by Walmart "associates," as their workers are called--perhaps to better disguise their terrible working conditions--and supported by United Food and Commercial Workers Union.
So, I spent part of Black Friday Morning walking the picket line with OUR Walmart (Organization United for Respect at Walmart), chanting whichever ones inspired me, smiling even at customers who crossed the line and generally trying not to bait Walmart execs who stood by doors acting as if "their" customers were in danger from picketers. I didn't do well on the last one, but I didn't get accosted or take their mierda, either. It was more fulfilling being there than having gorged on pavo the previous day.
On the other hand, Walmart gorges more and more:
"Return on investment for the 12 months ended Oct. 31, 2012 was 18.0 percent. Year to date, the company returned $8.7 billion to shareholders through dividends and share repurchases. It reached #1 in 2002 and stayed there until 2009, when it fell behind Exxon Mobil. The only firm in the top four of the Fortune 500 not an energy company. The world’s largest corporation, with revenues of about $300 billion and almost two million employees."
The 1% keeping much of our 99% in Third-World status. Possibly our greatest American product these days: "Huffington Post uncovered what reporters call a rigid pay structure for hourly employees that makes it difficult for most to rise much beyond poverty-level wages.”
I've shopped there maybe six times in my lifetime, to-date. I avoid it, knowing I'd be supporting Congressionally backed shipping of more jobs to the prospering Chinese, not that I have anything against Chinese prosperity--just not for the benefit of our 1%. And I avoid it because my saving pennies or dollars reminds me of those who survived Nazi Germany by ignoring the lines headed into the concentration camps and ovens. A stretch in some ways, but a logic my brain follows.
I wasn't in the picket line only because raza work there. I was also there because it's what I believe democracy requires, especially in these times. Support especially the bottom half of the 99%, even if it's only a centavos or dolares sacrifice. In perspective, not that big of a deal.
A woman passing through picketers in front of me heard the protesters chant: "We say fight back!" Her response: "I say be glad you have a job." Typical individualistic, politically myopic, self-destructive American thinking. An Ugly American. But she got me thinking.
Because many customers were walking through the lines, although there were as few as 9 customers in line at the 32 registers inside at that moment, I put down my picket sign, picked up flyers (unfortunately, not in Spanish) and headed to the parking lot where I got customers to stop and listen.
It was great. No, I didn't re-educate and rally the masses or put much dent in corporate profits, but after explaining the purpose of the picket line, working conditions at Walmart, and what they were asking customers to do--not shop Walmart that day--I did learn some things.
I found mexicano shoppers most receptive. They remembered their mexicano general-strike heritage. They were more open to postponing their shopping. In some cases, they were unaware of anything and at times left without purchasing anything. I gave some time and was thankful it produced something good.
Next time I join anything like this, I'm grabbing flyers, switching to español and heading for cars parking. To get that sense of accomplishment. To strike back at the 1%. To Give in my country where Get or Buy is our national sickness. Plus, it'll work off some of that added weight from turkey-gorging. And maybe a tiny bit, it will erase some of that vergüenza that sometimes shames those of us who once gritoed "Que viva la causa!"
Es todo, hoy,