My dear friend and colleague Josh Eidelson has done a spectacular job of covering the nitty-gritty of the Wal-Mart strikes, and I didn’t want to simply rehash his work. So instead, I wrote about the strikes for Religion Dispatches and talked to workers for whom their faith was a motivating factor in organizing, to the brilliant Bethany Moreton about the changes in Wal-Mart’s culture as it moves into cities far from its rural white evangelical base, and to faith leaders and organizers who are fighting Wal-Mart’s low wages and lousy treatment of workers—and starting to win.
Last month, when strikers from Southern California arrived in Bentonville, Arkansas to protest Wal-Mart’s labor practices with reggae beats, pots and pans, and a Latin American-inflected protest culture, it became clear to onlookers that America’s superstore was no longer the small family business that Sam Walton had founded and grown in the cradle of the anti-labor culture of Southern evangelicaldom. But it’s also become clear that Wal-Mart’s own ambitions to become a global empire—expanding beyond southern suburbs to new regions, and continuing to erode protections for its workers—have brought the “family values” behemoth into confrontation with another kind of religious and labor rights tradition.
Wal-Mart has long been the Holy Grail for labor organizers. The nation’s largest retailer, it is notorious for its low wages, lack of benefits, abusive labor practices, and for leaving its workers dependent on public assistance while making the Walton family rich beyond imagination. And it has been nearly impossible to organize.