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WalMart Protests Spark

In Phoenix

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Justin Pierce of The Industrial Workers of the World outside a Tempe WalMart Friday. Image by Ben Garcia.
Although Outnumbered By Those Seeking Deals, Workers, Activists And Other Arizonans Spent Friday Railing Against Practices Of World’s Largest Retailer

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By Jeff Moses
Modern Times Magazine

Nov. 25, 2012 — Protesters throughout the U.S. converged on WalMart locations Friday — including some in the Phoenix metropolitan area — in solidarity with WalMart workers seeking better wages, benefits, and working conditions from the world’s largest retailer.

Some cities attracted thousands of people, including actual WalMart employees.

WalMart workers typically remain silent due to WalMart’s notorious anti-union regulations, which have seen countless blue shirts served with pink slips.

But many broke their silence on Black Friday 2012. Here in the Valley, the Industrial Workers of the World and Occupy Phoenix targeted WalMart’s Buckeye distribution center in the morning, and then picketed at the Rural and Southern retail location in Tempe in the afternoon.

The IWW took the lead in organizing the distribution center demonstration, which according to IWW members Jakobe Illich and Jefferson Pierce, seemed to attract more Buckeye police than protesters.

“There were about a dozen cop cars there, they were waiting for us when we got there,” said Illich. As for the protester side, only 13 made the trip to Buckeye.

According to Pierce, the Buckeye police seemed inexperienced with protest situations and allowed the protesters to park and stand on the WalMart property until the manager told the police to remove the protesters.

“That was probably the first time Buckeye police had to call in their bike cops for a protest,” said Pierce.

Even with the small crowd, the IWW members still felt they were successful in standing in solidarity with their fellow workers.

“There was a really good energy down there, we were getting really good waves and nods,” said Illich.

“I think WalMart told their truck drivers not to honk at us, because we were getting way more waves and nods than honks,” said Pierce.

The most aggressive resistance to their protest was found in one passerby who suggested the protesters “get a job,” to which Occupy Phoenix member Tara Marshall responded, “I have two.”

The distribution center protest dispersed around noon and headed to the Tempe location to meet with the protesters there who, together with the IWW, made for a respectable 30-person picket line.

WalMart manager “Rob” refused to give a statement or his last name, but judging by the numerous security guards who began to accumulate near the protest he was none too happy with his store being targeted for a Black Friday Protest.

The IWW members made their goals clear regarding this WalMart action; they are working toward organizing WalMart workers and helping them gain the power necessary to negotiate with management, Pierce said.

“The WalMart butchers tried to organize and they voted to unionize, so WalMart got rid of all the meat counters, so we want to make it so that can’t happen again,” said Pierce.

The IWW’s goals may have been organization, but not every member wants to stop at unionized WalMarts.

“Obviously we would like to see the abolition of places like WalMart, or at least to see them worker-managed,” said Illich.

Occupy’s stated goals were not as cut and dry as the IWW, since their contingent came for their own reasons. The general message, though, was that Occupy stood in support of the workers and against consumerism.

In Tempe, the protesters spread out between the Southern Avenue and Rural Road sides of the WalMart and held signs. The protest chants were a little murky since not many knew the words.

The group was also joined by a small contingent of Unitarian Universalists, who came in their yellow “standing on the side of love,” T-shirts to reinforce the IWW and OPHX people.

There was also an action at a WalMart near Christown Mall in the West Valley attended mostly by members of Our Walmart, a group primarily comprised of WalMart workers.

Jeff Moses is a freelance writer and photographer currently living in Mesa, Ariz. He has been published in The Mesa Legend, OccupyUprising.org and The Highway Herald. Contact him by calling 727-385-0624.
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