Walmart Workers Protest Working Conditions

by , posted on Monday, October 8th, 2012 at 1:54 pm

The strike is now over but I wanted to submit this to show what the strikers went through. They are heroes.

On Friday, Oct 1, I protested with the Walmart warehouse workers in Elwood, Illinois. I am with Jobs with Justice of Northern Illinois and we were there to show support for workers who are in just such a position and need some moral support

to show they are not alone in their fight. Other unions also backed the strikers.

It was a typical rally with an off site location across from the gigantic warehouse where the contents of trailers are unloaded into the facility and are re-loaded for distribution to local Walmart stores. Several of the speakers were “strikers” who walked off the job after trying to deliver a grievance petition to their management and were ignored and fired from their jobs. They told of inhuman working conditions where the temperatures inside the trailers parked outside in the sun reach up to 130 degrees on summer days.

Any sort of consideration for intolerable working conditions is nonexistent and management’s main goal is to get the trucks unloaded as fast as possible so the next trailer can be backed in the stall to be unloaded. One of the “high paid” workers made $10.00 per hour after three years working there “on and off” and his take home pay averaged $190 per week. Health care, vacation and any sort of pension is unheard of and if you complain, you are told to leave and another worker is immediately hired to replace you. The grievance petition was a last desperate attempt to work things out with company but it was rebuffed and the strike began last month.

The rally began at 4pm and by then the crowd of supporters grew with several busloads arriving to bring the crowd to a reported 600. One of the speakers explained

that it was intended that this peaceful march would end with several (17) marchers being arrested. The arrestees were already known and they were identified with a strip of colored tape around each upper arm. The march stepped off about 4:30 and the column headed to the main gate of the facility which was about 1 mile away. The warehouse is so large that to get from one side to the other is quite a trek.

We arrived at the gate and made a few circular turns while chanting “We will overcome” and a few other selections. Finally the group of 17 sat down in the road from one curb to the other. A police car announced they were in violation of the law and gave them 5 minutes to clear the street. Our organizers requested everybody else step up beyond the curb which was done in an orderly manner and then we waited.

One of the most shocking sights I have ever seen then presented itself. I had anticipated that the local Elwood police department and Will county sheriffs would complete the arrest. There were more than enough of them with the approximately eight officers on hand with a mini-bus they had. Up until that time I/we had no idea there was a 20-30 member swat team secreted

out of sight on the Walmart property. I do have a question as to why this team was not outside private property instead of being housed by Walmart. All of a sudden they showed themselves in their black riot uniforms marching in military fashion with a Humvee behind them with a large antenna on top of it and I assumed it was a riot control device that effects a persons skin and causes them to run from it get away from the distress it causes.

I saw them as Storm Troopers. They were completely over the top and unnecessary. At no time was our group violent of even threatening violence. After one more threat, the Walmart guards inside the compound threw the gates open and the ST’s marched out and surrounded the 17 sitting on the street. After 5 minutes or so the ST’s took the protesters one by one, put orange plastic cuffs on them and led them off to a bus. I had never seen the orange cuffs before and I thought they were their fall colored model. It took a long time to take the 17 away and the rest of us were chanting in a low non-threatening way.

I was taking pictures and I got to wondering “Hmmm what happens next?” One ST was taking videos and the ST’s were obviously meant to intimidate so I couldn’t be sure how this would end. I didn’t see any tear gas canisters but I’m sure they were very close by. I imagined a scene like the atrocity last year at University of California-Davis when students were tear gassed as they sat peacefully. It saddens me that I’ve come to a point where I look at what should be a positive force for out protection to be a threat to our freedom. I thought that maybe they’d come and confiscate our cameras so I removed the card from it and hid it on me so I’d have some proof of what happened.

After the last protester was removed the protest broke up without any incidents. It was kind of like how things end at a funeral gathering at a cemetery. There were some final verses of “We shall overcome” and then folks started drifting away for the long walk back to the original gathering area.

As I walked back with a companion we discussed the happening. Behind us I noticed a man walking with what looked like a Walmart badge on. I preferred that he be ahead of us instead of behind so I told him to go ahead. His “badge” actually was a small microphone with a WJOL radio station identifier on it and we began to talk. His name was Nick and very easy to talk to. I expressed my dismay at how it was handled, especially the outrageously intimidating Storm Troopers. He reassured us that the whole event was choreographed and everybody played their parts. The ST’s were there “just in case” and were designed to intimidate so nothing would get out of control. He was ok with it all and assured us the protesters were not under arrest, would be taken somewhere, they would get a ticket, released and it would be all over with. I do believe that but I don’t like it but I guess it’s better than torches and pitchforks and tear gas and rubber bullets.

So it looks like we all played our parts in a kabuki dance. Walmart, hopefully, will get a public relations black eye and the warehouse workers may get some respect. It worked at the California warehouse and may work here.

So…..I’m glad I played my part and would do it again.

Just sayin’………. Joe Stupec, Aurora, Illinois

See also: “Non-Violent Walmart Protesters In Ellwood, Illinois, Arrested By Riot Police


Tags: , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.