STERLING HEIGHTS. Mich. - While analysts are lamenting that retail sales were down at shopping malls on Black Friday, the numbers were simultaneously "up" at Walmart protests taking place the same day.
It's a "growing movement," said Michigan native Mary Kay Henry, Service Employees International president, as she spoke to a crowd of several hundred here, a suburb about 20 miles north of Detroit. Passing motorists honked in support as people waved signs protesting the policies of the high profit, low-wage company.
It's a "crying shame" that Walmart made $17 billion in profit but its employees can work 40 hours a week and still qualify for food stamps, housing assistance, and Medicaid, said Rev. Frank W. Jackson IV of the Metropolitan A.M.E. Zion Church in Detroit.
Walmart claims 400,000 of its employees make over $25,000 a year. "What they neglect to say said is that 417,000 make below $19,000."
On a day when shoppers were looking for deals, Jerry, a worker at Kroger's said the Walton family got the best deal of all but "they do it on the backs of their employees."
How wealthy is the Walton family? Metro Detroit AFL-CIO President Chris Michalakis said he looked it up and discovered that 45 royal families have a combined wealth coming "to only a fifth" of the Walton family.
In addition to paying low wages, Walmart also shorts it workers on hours. Robin Edwards, who had worked at Walmart for four years said they didn't give employees "but 27 hours a week. You can't raise a family on low wages at 27 hours a week."
Henry asked the crowd to imagine what "a difference it would make to our neighborhood and communities" if workers at Walmart and in other low-wage jobs made a livable salary of $40,000 a year. It would both sustain families and increase the tax base.
Henry said the next mobilization will come on Dec. 5 when Walmart workers will be joining the fast food workers national protests for higher wages. They'll keep organizing until one of the multinationals lifts wages. "We can win," said Henry.
Photo: PW/John Rummel