Unions' Secret Strategy To Win Back Workers

Walmart workers strike
Walmart workers strike

On Black Friday this year, workers in 1,000 Walmart stores in 46 states made history of sorts, becoming the first time Walmart workers had an organized strike. Six days after, workers at fast food outlets in New York City organized their own walk outs, marking what some experts said was the first multi-restaurant strike by fast food workers in the country.

While neither strike made a dent in sales --- in fact, Walmart broke records on Black Friday --- the worker actions made big headlines, and that was the point. With union membership at its lowestpoint in 70 years, activists have been busy strategizing on how to make unions relevant in a global economy. And they've hit upon one: focus on income inequality and broad social and economic justice issues -- rather than on how to improve working conditions at one workplace.

In fact, organizers are staging a protest in 10 countries Friday at which Walmart workers are calling on company management to stop silencing "workers for speaking out out for changes," according to an email sent out by the Making Change at Walmart movement. It's been organizing the rallies, and includes the non-union group OUR Walmart of company employees.

"It's about putting the labor back into the labor movement," says Dan Schlademan, director of the campaign, which is being led by the United Food and Commercial Workers' Union. "It's not just about building up unions or how to fix problems at one store. It's about sectors as a whole, and the broader problems of how people can't live off the wages they are making."

The new emphasis is largely inspired by the Occupy movement and its populist appeal. "A lot of people critiqued the Occupy movement, but it changed the debate about equality," says Schlademan.