Retail Activism Growing

It has been a busy time for retail workers and their allies around the world.   California warehouse workers wrapped up their two week, 50 mile pilgrimage for safe work, having built mass support for their cause.  In Illinois, workers at a Walmart supplier warehouse are on strike for better working conditions, and 17 supporters were arrested during a large day of action.  In the US, France, and around the world, workers in Apple stores are campaigning for change. Vous pouvez lire cet article sur les problèmes et efforts en France. In India, a national strike was held against proposed changes to the retail sector, which saw shopkeepers, workers, and unionists uniting.

In assessing this growing retail activism, the diversity of participants is noteworthy.  So too is the fact that a wide range of strategies are being used, and that the efforts are both about resisting poor conditions, and proactively proposing new ways to view retail work and workers.

Putting Walmart into Perspective

You can find a very useful synthesis of the relative power of Walmart in this infographic created by Frugal Dad.  It helps us understand just how significant Walmart is, and how it compares to other companies, workplaces, and even to countries’ economies.  The data is further proof of why retail matters, how much retail matters, and why we should be having broad-based conversations about the sector.

Walmart Model Negatively Affects Workers in Retail and Beyond

There is growing evidence of the connections among Walmart’s low prices, low wages, and job losses – in retail and beyond. Walmart is the largest private sector employer in the world, so its actions have wide-reaching effects across industries. This article outlines the impact of Walmart’s model for US workers, as does this Demos study. The pattern is similar in other countries. For example, Canada lost 30 000 jobs in July, with large decreases in both retail and manufacturing. As other large, low-wage retailers move into Canada, things will not improve, unless changes are made.  And there are a number of alternative avenues available. As but one example, my colleague at MIT, Zeynep Ton, makes a strong argument about what companies should do, and how treating workers better actually helps the bottom line. Walmart workers and their allies are also playing a leading role in promoting change. Ongoing job losses, poverty wages, and poor conditions cannot be defended – economically or ethically.

Future of Rona Affects Retail Workers

Lowe’s takeover bid of Canada’s large hardware/home improvement chain, Rona, has implications for thousands of retail workers, particularly those in the stores in Québec, members of TUAC 500 (UFCW).  The current government of Québec has said it is not in favour of the takeover due to Rona’s prioritization of Canadian suppliers, and the potential impact on the regional and national economy if the stores were to be acquired by Lowe’s. Read more about the issues in this CBC report.

6400 Zellers Workers Losing Their Jobs

HBC has announced it will close the remaining Zellers stores which were not taken over by Target. About 6400 workers will lose their jobs.  Workers in the stores being converted to Target have also been told that they are being laid off. I send my condolences to all the Zellers workers who are losing their jobs – from the newest additions, to those who have worked in the stores for nearly forty years. This is a strong reminder of the need to revolutionize retail so workers’ needs are taken more seriously.

Study on Relationship Between Profits and Wages

The National Employment Law Project has released an important study focusing on companies’ profits and whether profits translate into better wages.  The study, based on US census data, has some significant data for retail and other low-wage service workers, including that the large companies making profits still primarily only pay minimum-wage.  The NELP media release with key links is available here. You can also read this story in the Nation.