Wal-Mart Workers in 12 States Stage Historic Strikes, Protests Against Workplace Retaliation
This is an early Christmas present! I’ve been reading non-stop about these strikes. It was really hard for me to identify with Occupy Wall Street last year - from the language of occupation to the demonization of “corporate greed”, I felt like OWS (which was an admittedly diversified movement) oversimplified so many issues. What’s interesting about these strikes in particular is that workers are essentially protesting for the right to protest. They’re not asking for higher wages or better working conditions (though hopefully, those aspects of their job will improve as well). Rather, they’re fighting back against attempts to “”silence and retaliate against workers for speaking out for improvements on the job”. They want to speak for themselves.
During my senior year of college, I did research on class consciousness and identity formation among Walmart workers. I was inspired to pursue this topic by a friend of mine, who was on academic leave and had been working at his local Walmart. He got me access to interview subjects, who ran the gamut in terms of age, race, gender, etc. This was someone who spent the previous summer at J.P. Morgan, earning over the course of one internship as much as my mother makes in a year. He didn’t need to work at Walmart, but he came to love it because of the people he’d gotten to know there. He said the experience taught him more than any Harvard course, and I could say the same of the limited time I spent interviewing his co-workers.
This was one of the reasons why so much of OWS rhetoric rubbed me the wrong way. It’s not about greedy bankers or corrupt businesses or dividing people up into the 99% or the 1%. Whether it’s Wal-Mart or Wall Street, corporations often exhibit little concern for the well-being of their employees and the society at large. Everything is subordinated to profit, but that’s always been the nature of corporations. Most of my gainfully employed friends work in finance and yes, they make good salaries and would probably fall into the 1% category if you left it up to public opinion - but they too are consistently overworked and deal with abuse and are blatantly exploited by employers. Because of their background and the prestige of their occupations, they experience exploitation in a different manner, but they are nonetheless workers at the end of the day, who probably have a lot more in common with a Wal-Mart employee than they do with a CEO. And who knows? Maybe a Wall Street strike is next.