Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Brilliant: a non-union workers group at Wal-Mart...and others?

By Steven Greenhouse, New York Times, June 14, 2011
After numerous failed attempts to unionize Wal-Mart stores, the nation’s main union for retail workers has decided to try a different approach: it has helped create a new, nonunion group of Wal-Mart employees that intends to press for better pay, benefits and most of all, more respect at work.

The group, Organization United for Respect at Walmart, or OUR Walmart for short, says it has quietly signed up thousands of members in recent months, and it is going public this week with a Web site,, and a Facebook page. Organizers say they have more than 50 members at some stores, and they hope to soon have tens of thousands of members. Wal-Mart has nearly 1.4 million workers nationwide.
Although the Web site of OUR Walmart depicts the organization as a grass-roots effort by Wal-Mart workers, the United Food and Commercial Workers has provided a sizable sum — the union will not say how much — to help the group get started. The union has also paid hundreds of its members to go door to door to urge Wal-Mart workers to join the group.
In addition, the organizers are receiving help from ASGK Public Strategies, a consulting firm long associated with David Axelrod, President Obama’s top political strategist.
In recent weeks, OUR Walmart has organized gatherings of 10 to 80 workers in Dallas, Seattle, Los Angeles and other cities, meeting inside churches, fast-food restaurants and employees’ homes, where the workers chewed over how they would like to improve Wal-Mart. One big concern, they said, was low wages.
Finally, a non-union workers' group that will press Wal-Mart for better wages and benefits for Wal-Mart workers!
And why would it not be supported by both the labour movement and organizations like ASGK, the Consulting firm associated with David Axelrod, Obama'c chief political strategist.
This is political, economic and historic organizing that faces the reality that Wal-Mart will simply close any story in which a union is certified.
Of course, we can expect a legal pushback from corporate headquarters; they do not want any kind of worker organization. However, this move to organize workers in an asociation, that is not called a union, that is not tied to the union history, or its corrupt officials, or all of its tactics, and it presents a new and different, and potentially viable instrument of negotiating leverage for workers at the bottom end of the food chain.
The real dangers in this initiative is that it too will devolve onto the shoulders of leaders whose own need for power and control exceeds and subverts the legitimate aims of the organization. If that risk can be avoided, and organizers must have considered how to mitigate against such development, then workers co-operatives, or associations, or clubs, or whatever they eventually come to be called, can and will serve the collective interests or workers who, without such collectivity, stand hardly a chance against the strong winds of corporate suits determined to operate without any kind of worker collective.

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