Spotlight on Workers: Black Friday 2012 at Walmart, Richmond, CA
By Leah Scrivener
photo by Ashley Pinkerton
This year on Black Friday, the crowd at Walmart in Richmond, CA certainly looked a little different. The Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart) as well as the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice, and many local unions, brought together over two hundred people on Friday morning to stand in solidarity with Walmart workers.
One thousand other protests like the one in Richmond happened all over the country on Black Friday, in one hundred U.S. cities and in 46 states. It proved to be the" largest-ever U.S. strike against the largest employer in the world".
Walmart workers are food workers, and so these Black Friday protests were also strong statements for food justice. In fact, Walmart is the largest food retailer in the United States, boasting total sales of $264.2 billion in 2012.
Since 2011, Walmart workers have been gathering momentum by speaking out about low wages, unsafe working conditions, and racial discrimination in their work places. They have brought to light the fact that the average Walmart “associate” makes only $8.80 per hour, translating to $15,500 per year for a full-time employee, which is below the poverty line for a family of three. In other words, hundreds of thousands of Walmart workers with full-time jobs still live below the poverty line. Despite this injustice, their demands have been met with layoffs, reduced hours, and other threats to intimidate them and silence their protests.
At around 9:00 am on Friday morning, there was already a growing crowd of people outside of Walmart’s main entrance. Many organizers and Walmart employees wore lime green shirts, and as the crowd grew, they passed out more shirts and handed out lime green balloons, peppering the crowd with the bright, unifying color.
The influence of Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers was alive and well that day with the crowd repeatedly chanting “Si se puede!”, and some carrying signs that demanded “HUELGA”. The Brass Liberation Orchestra accompanied the chanters with raucous blaring of brass and persistent pattering of snare drums and cymbals. Other signs showed solidarity and support for the workers inside the store: “Richmond supports Walmart Workers” ;“Walmart NOT in our community”.
The demonstration was a platform for Walmart workers to stand up and share testimonies of their struggles at Walmart. As one organizer put it: “This is the truth you won’t hear on TV. This is a truth you’re not going to hear on Walmart’s pretty page online. But this is the real truth of what happens to workers in one of the largest, private corporations in America.”
Mario, a former overnight worker at Walmart who had been recently fired, told the crowd: “We’re tired of retaliation, we’re tired of disrespect, we’re tired of being treated unfairly, when it’s time to speak out it’s time to speak out, so they’re going to hear us more and more.”
Another worker who walked off the job on Black Friday added: “Walmart promises low prices, but, you know, that low price comes at a cost. We ain’t makin’ anything. And taxpayers have to foot the bill, and it’s unacceptable… We’re going to draw from your strength—this is one Black Friday but this is going to continue to happen until Walmart wakes up.”
The speakers thanked the crowd for being there and showing support for the workers who were inside the store.
Other community leaders, union presidents, government representatives, and faith leaders stood up and gave testimony, including Congressman George Miller (D-CA), author of the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2012.
To see a full video of all of the Black Friday testimonies at the Richmond Walmart, click here.