Originally published on 23rd November 2013.
In the United States today, there is a large group of ordinary workers is standing up to world’s largest, and probably most prolific, corporate giant. Walmart represents some of the worst excesses of globalised capitalism; it has depressed wages, introduced draconian working conditions, forced governments into offering subsidies, moved thousands of jobs to the developing world where they can behave in an even worse manner, shirked its responsibilities as an employer, destroyed local businesses, and driven down the quality of the products it sells.
Today, a large number of American Walmart employees are striking for wages higher than $8 (£5), working weeks of 30 hours and not 27.5 (In the US, employers need to provide health cover to employees who work 30 hours or longer) and to generally be treated as human beings rather than units to be exploited. Today is Black Friday, when shopping will be at its maximum after Thanksgiving, so this strike will be short and sharp.
Walmart has up until now been relatively successful at marginalising trade unions, which present a major block to the corporation swelling its profits in yet another way. Many people have grumbled at how Walmart employees are forced to work reduced hours for miniscule pay, but the threat of being cast into the privatised disaster that represents the American social security system has been enough for the supermarket giant to divide and rule. Even now, when unions have dodged the legal barriers to their existence and industrial action, Walmart is alleged to have illegally lent on employees to not take part in the strike.
Globalisation all too often works against the people. Bankers and manufacturers, amongst others, constantly demand deregulation, tax cuts, dilution of the workforce’s rights and representation, and seemingly the world on a silver platter, or, we are told, they will cheerfully relocate to dodgy tax havens or shady developing countries. And until we make our governments get their acts together, that is going to be a major barrier to social justice. Is it not time we tried broadening protests to the globalised world in which our problems exist?
Walmart is a prime example. If you’re reading this, the chances are that you’re in the UK, the US or Canada, in all of which Walmart operates. (In the UK, it trades as ASDA) As with Barclays colluding with the apartheid regime in South Africa, pressure on subsidiaries, and not just the parent company, is key.
It is not acceptable for working people in the world’s most prosperous country to find themselves without affordable healthcare, to be on poverty wages, and for this to be sustained by a highly profitable and influential business which contributes so little to society. I have therefore donated sponsored a striker (search “Our Walmart” for more information) and will write to ASDA informing them that I will try to divert as much custom away from them as possible until Walmart delivers a fair deal to all of its workers around the world.
If the likes of Walmart won’t deliver justice now, then it’s only a matter of time until the people make them via the ballot box.