Video: Occupy Detroit Celebrates Black Friday at Dearborn Walmart
When Walmart workers all over the country asked for support for their Black Friday pickets and strike, Occupy Detroit decided to organize an action. A few of us started conversations with workers at stores in the area.
We received positive responses, but it was clear there was no core OUR Walmart group already in place. We invited Southeast Michigan Jobs with Justice and the United Food and Commercial Workers, both of which have backed OUR Walmart nationally, to our weekly meetings.
The planning created new angles for Occupy and labor to work together. One Occupier who was enthusiastic about Black Friday plans wanted to get his union local to sign on. It was the first time he’d thought about addressing a membership meeting and asking for support. He talked to both co-workers and local union officials, which allowed him to gauge their willingness to get involved as a local.
By the time he made his presentation to about 130 members, he already knew some of the officers were afraid of interrupting the biggest shopping day of the year. He wasn’t deterred by their timidity, but encouraged them to follow the event and get involved at a later stage. And he continued to encourage his co-workers to attend.
Our strategy was to hand Walmart workers an envelope that contained a leaflet from the OUR Walmart website, and tell them that we supported their struggle for their rights. We also wanted to explain to customers why we were in the store, but they were not our focus. Originally we projected an action of 40 people. Our leaflets for both workers and customers came from the OUR Walmart website, as did our signs. We wrote up some chants.
We registered our action on the Corporate Action Network website, and directed people to join us off-site so that we could go over our plan. That’s when things seemed to snowball! We started getting texts, phone calls, and emails. Good Jobs Now, the coalition backed by the Service Employees, sent us carols they had rewritten to reveal Walmart’s practices toward workers and said they would be joining us. The National Lawyers Guild said they’d have four legal observers on hand.
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That morning we organized a leafleting team, an action team, and a picketing team that would stay outside. We practiced singing “Jingle bells, Walmart sells….” and “On the first day of Christmas, Walmart gave to me…a job with no security!” The practice was great! Not only did we learn how to sing together, but it also created momentum for what followed. We brought a couple dozen balloons into the store; when released, they floated up to the ceiling, bearing messages and the OUR Walmart website address.
About 100 people went into the Dearborn Walmart, and many were able to leaflet for 10 minutes before we were “discovered” by management. We’d agreed that, when asked to leave, we would gather in one area of the store and begin chanting. Although we thought we’d be escorted out quickly, we found the jam of Black Friday shoppers kept us in the area, chanting and singing our Christmas carols. Customers took out their iPads and cell phones and filmed the happening, and their children were delighted to discover Santa Claus among us.
Then we chanted as we marched along the main aisle from the back of the store to the front. It was only as we were leaving that I realized the police had arrived and were attempting to shoo us out the door. Pumped up from our successful action, we joined the picketers outside and continued to chant until the police told us we’d made our point and should be moving along. We were happy to go, but determined to deepen our relationship to the Walmart workers.
Walmart Worker Organizations: OUR Walmart, Corporate Action Network, Making Change at Walmart.
Dianne Feeley is a retired auto worker active in Occupy Detroit.