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A minister is handcuffed and led away by police in riot gear at a protest against abusive conditions in an Illinois Walmart warehouse.
Clearly a peaceful protest at a Walmart warehouse required this kind of police response. (@daneyvilla)
Workers all over are protesting Walmart's lousy treatment of its workers every way they know how. Just after workers at a Walmart-contracted warehouse in California returned to work from a 15-day strike, Illinois workers at another Walmart-contracted warehouse in Illinois ratcheted up a strike started in solidarity with the California workers, holding a peaceful rally that resulted in 17 arrests by dozens of police in riot gear. In Tennessee, meanwhile, three women filed a gender discrimination suit against the retail giant.

The warehouse workers are overwhelmingly temps hired by contractors so that Walmart can deny responsibility for their abusive working conditions even as it effectively sets the standards in the workplace. Workers report having to contend with wage theft, unsafe equipment, and an atmosphere of constant intimidation and threats. At Monday's rally, 17 people were arrested, including "Will County Board member Jackie Traynere, the Rev. Craig Purchase of Mount Zion Tabernacle Church in Joliet, the Rev. Raymond Lescher of Sacred Heart Church in Joliet and Charlotte Droogan, lay minister at Universalist Unitarian Church of Joliet."

The Tennessee gender discrimination lawsuit, meanwhile, comes after the Supreme Court said that the thousands of women who Walmart had discriminated against didn't meet the requirements for a national class action suit; instead, regional cases are being filed, with Tennessee following California and Texas. Although discrimination in wages and promotions is widespread at Walmart stores, the corporation claims it's just all coincidental, not a reflection of corporate policy:

Walmart’s excuse is our discrimination against workers is too diverse, official policy, and not inflicted on every single woman who works for us, so we’re innocent. I’m not kidding. Walmart spokesperson Randy Hargrove said “As we have said all along, these claims are unsuitable for class treatment because the individual situations are so different and because the claims of these three people are not representative of the hundreds of thousands of women who work at Wal-Mart.”
It's a divide-and-conquer legal strategy: force women to sue you in small groups because their resources will run out a lot faster than one giant group.

Walmart relies on abusing workers all up and down its supply chain to grow and profit. It puts workers in dangerous conditions, works them without regard for their health and safety, denies them overtime and even the minimum wage, discriminates against women, retaliates against workers who speak out by firing them. These aren't just efforts to keep workers from organizing unions, they're efforts to break workers entirely, efforts not just to give workers their absolute minimum rights under the law but to break the law routinely on the theory that getting caught occasionally is still cheaper than following the law.

Increasingly, workers are organizing and fighting back, in the courts, through wage theft and health and safety complaints, and in the streets. The important thing is to connect these dots and see that the warehouse workers striking in Illinois and California and the women filing discrimination cases in Tennessee, California, and Texas are part of the same fight against the same system of oppression Walmart has so carefully constructed.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Wed Oct 03, 2012 at 12:43 PM PDT.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions.

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