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You can't judge the success of Friday's actions across the nation on the basis of whether or not the stores were shut down. The fact that they happened is proof that they succeeded.

Some critics of OUR Wal-Mart's strategy contend that the strikes' failure to stem the tide of customers on Black Friday are proof that the actions were failures. Such an argument rests on a flawed understanding of OUR Wal-Mart's goals--one of which was certainly to show Associates themselves that change is possible.

The Corporate Action Network contends that over 1,000 protests were staged in 46 states. You can see a map of those actions on their facebook page here.  OUR Wal-Mart contends that workers walked off the job in 100 stores. Some of those stores in places as far-flung as Ocean City, MD Baton Rouge, LA and Chicago's South Side involved one lone worker taking direct action. As an aside--can you imagine being the only person in your shop to declare a strike in progress and walk off the job? I think most of us probably don't have that level of courage.

In Amy Dean's interview with the UFCW's organizing director, he states directly that "The more that they see they've made some incremental changes in individual stores - on scheduling, on suspensions, by banding together and getting the management to correct things - that's encouraged them and given them courage to take larger actions. That's why we're seeing the strikes now."

In other words--the more people see change happening on the jobs because of the direct actions they take--the more they'll be encouraged to stand up. One of the most disheartening refrains of commenters about the strikes came from Wal-Mart workers who were convinced that change was impossible, and standing up was merely a straight ticket to the unemployment line. Every striker who comes back to work with their heads up is a testament to the power of direct action. It gets the goods, as the old slogan goes.

Matthew Yglesias' piece on the challenges of organizing Wal-Mart as an institution seizes on an important point--that it's difficult to find choke points in the work system to shut down the employer. It's important to note then that this wave of worker-led strikes actually began with permatemps striking Wal-Mart distribution centers in California and Illinois--the very kinds of strategic choke points Yglesias is referring to. These strikes had the exact same kind of open-source, informal structure as the OUR Wal-Mart Black Friday actions, and it's not a coincidence that they preceded last Friday's actions. Whether they served as direct inspiration or not for individual Wal-Mart workers, they clearly were an important step in this struggle.

If the estimate published in this In These Times piece is accurate then 500 workers walked off the job. Out of a workforce of 1.4 million US workers, that sounds insignificant. Yet it remains the largest concerted work action in Wal-Mart history. And its impact moving forward can be summed up in the words of Rosetta Brown:

 Rosetta Brown, an OUR Walmart member at a suburban Chicago Sam's Club, has been fighting Walmart for the 12 years she has worked for the company, and on Friday she was out on strike, Although she has organized at least 10 co-workers into OUR Walmart, she says most of the workers at her store said they were afraid to go out. But when she returned to work today, she was their hero.

"I've been getting congratulations all day, even in front of the manager," says Brown, who comes from a politically engaged family, including her mother, a union steward. "People have been high-fiving me. I wasn't afraid of getting fired. Now I think a lot of workers in stores who were afraid would walk out. We'd get a lot of support from them. They just didn't want to get fired. I'm not mad at them."
Or as Miami striker Elaine Rozier put it:
I’m so happy that this is history, that my grandkids can learn from this to stand up for themselves,” Miami striker Elaine Rozier told The Nation Thursday night. Before, “I always used to sit back and not say anything…. I’m proud of myself tonight.”
I helped organize an action at my local Wal-Mart in the town I live in. With only six participants leafletting a parking lot, it might seem small. But to the store manager who lost his shit at the sight of us, it was obviously quite significant. Whatever happens next, this was an historic strike. Watching Wal-Mart try to spin 1,000 actions in 46 states as insignificant is kind of amusing.  If they really feel that way, they can go ahead and withdraw their charges at the National Labor Relations Board that the actions represented a serious threat to their business. It'll be hilarious to watch those hearings moving forward.

PS--I should have said this already, but I actually got to meet some Maryland Kossacks who showed up the event I diaried about repeatedly. Shout outs all around.

Originally posted to inallmyyears on Mon Nov 26, 2012 at 07:33 PM PST.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions and Community Spotlight.

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