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Clear it with SidneyHow our blog got its name >

Notes on journalism for the common good
by Lindsay Beyerstein

How our blog got its name

Sidney Hillman was a powerful national figure during the Great Depression, a key supporter of the New Deal, and a close ally of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

When the rumor spread that President Roosevelt ordered his party leaders to “clear it with Sidney” before announcing Harry S. Truman as his 1944 running mate, conservative critics turned on the phrase, trumpeting it as proof that the president was under the thumb of “Big Labor.”

Over the years, the phrase lost its sting and became a testament to Hillman's influence.

It's hard to imagine a labor leader wielding that kind clout today, but we like the idea—and we hope Sidney would give thumbs up to our blog.

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Walmart Strike!


Walmart workers in several stores walked off the job in protest today. This is the first multi-store strike in the retailer's 50-year history:

Today, for the first time in Walmart’s fifty-year history, workers at multiple stores are out on strike. Minutes ago, dozens of workers at Southern California stores launched a one-day work stoppage in protest of alleged retaliation against their attempts to organize. In a few hours, they’ll join supporters for a mass rally outside a Pico Rivera, CA store. This is the latest – and most dramatic – of the recent escalations in the decades-long struggle between organized labor and the largest private employer in the world.

“I’m excited, I’m nervous, I’m scared…” Pico Rivera Walmart employee Evelin Cruz told Salon yesterday about her decision to join today’s strike. “But I think the time has come, so they take notice that these associates are tired of all the issues in the stores, all the management retaliating against you.” Rivera, a department manager, said her store is chronically understaffed: “They expect the work to be done, without having the people to do the job.” [Salon]

As Josh Eidelson of Salon explains, this is a risky move because the workers do not yet belong to a union. Even so, federal labor law protects the right of non-union workers to walk off the job to protest the conditions of their employment. The workers can't be fired for striking. What's less clear is whether the company could bring in scabs to replace the if the strike continues.

Eidelson interviewed historian Nelson Lichtenstein, the author of a book on unions and Walmart, and a past winner of the Hillman Foundation's Sol Stetin Award. Lichtenstein predicts that, if the strike gains momentum, the company will be constrained more by PR concerns than by the letter of the labor law.

Today's action is organized by OUR Walmart, an employee organization supported by the United Food and Commercial Workers. 

[Photo credit: A demonstration against Walmart's labor practices taken earlier this month, peoplesworld, Creative Commons.]



Good Luck! When a union was certified as the bargaining agent at a Quebec, Canada, Walmart, the company closed the store, saying it couldn't be competitive paying the higher wages the union was demanding. Target is opening stores in Canada at locations that were formerly unionized Zellers stores. The workers have lost their union jobs at Zellers, because Target purchased only the store locations, not the stores themselves. Target has said the out of work former Zellers employees are welcome to apply for jobs at the new Target stores. However, I don't think Target will be overly anxious to rehire them, given they are coming from a union environment and will no doubt be disgruntled about having to take a cut in pay and losing benefits the union negotiated with their former employer. Walmart keeps prices low by cutting costs, Including wages and benefits. Any retailer that hopes to successfully compete with Walmart has to do the same. Unfortunately for their emoyees, they don't have a choice in the matter.

My understanding is that, thanks to Reagan, replacement workers can be hired. That was my experience in a 1988 NYC tug boat strike. Those that would not cross the lines were replaced. The boats ran. The strike failed. I picketed for months which means I stood behind barriers and watched replacement workers come and go freely, protected by NYPD and a private security company. Years later some legal issues were resolved and those who did not return to work were compensated. I received $27,000 paid out over ten years (I think) in every three month installments. Republicans have successfully made unions powerless and there are no longer any effective actions workers can legally take when they have grievances, other than a humiliating appeal to public opinion Perhaps someday workers will be so desperate they resort to the tactics used to form unions to begin with. Good luck to the Walmart workers. Teamsters will sometimes honor picket lines in the early days of a strike but otherwise know that nearly everyone with any power whatsoever will be against you.

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