We all know the rough outlines of how lousyWalmart is to its workers and to local economies. Biggest private employer in the United States, average annual salary of $15,500, viciously anti-union. Of course Walmart fires workers who show an interest in unionizing, and eliminates departments or closes stores that do so, but the constantly running campaign to squelch not just unions but any worker activity or organizing is much more sophisticated and pervasive. At Labor Notes, Adrian Campbell Montgomery details just how pervasive it was when she was trained as a Walmart assistant manager four years ago.
Rather than the course in computer systems, policies, and scheduling she expected to receive, instead, the training consisted overwhelmingly of how to spot workers who were or might become disaffected:
We had a week-long schedule of anti-union sessions. They didn’t call them that, but essentially it was how to spot uprising employees.
We had an entire day devoted to word phrasing, looking at how employees use words and what key words to look for. A computer test consisted of a “what’s wrong with this picture?” game. You were shown the area near a time clock, and different handmade and computer-made signs. One sign said “Baby shower committee meeting Jan. 26, 8 pm.” Another said “Potluck Wednesday all day in break room.” Which one of those signs should raise alarms with management?
“Baby shower committee.” Because of the word “committee,” a manager would have to find the person who made the sign, find out why they used that word, then determine if the action got a warning or a write-up. If it was the store manager who found the sign, a write-up was almost guaranteed. They called it unlawful Walmart language, unbecoming a Walmart employee—words like “committee,” “organize,” “meeting.” Even “volunteer” was an iffy word, and they would raise an eyebrow at “group.”
Let’s try that one on for size: “A spectre is haunting Walmart—the spectre of baby shower committees.” Or, “Baby shower committee members of the world, unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains.” (I admit it, that’s not just a Walmartized but also a popularized version of the closing of Marx’s Communist Manifesto.)
Of course, by the time an anti-union system has gotten around to getting worked up about baby shower committees, it’s covered a whole lot of ground—as Montgomery’s post relates, she was trained in or reprimanded about who she could and couldn’t socialize with and what clothing could be in her locker while she worked. After all, a retail giant doesn’t treat its workers this badly and still avoid unions by just sitting there.
Appeared originally in Daily Kos Labor on September 1, 2011. Reprinted with permission.
About the author: Laura Clawson is a contributing editor at Daily Kos Labor, co-founder of Blue Hampshire, and Senior Writer at Working America. She currently resides in Washington, D.C.