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Fighting Back

The NLRB’s Labor Law Complaint Against Wal-Mart

by SETH SANDRONSKY

Did David just stagger Goliath? Yes, but this fight between capital and labor is not over.

On January 15, the Office of the General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board issued a “consolidated complaint” against behemoth retailer Wal-Mart, alleging it violated the National Labor Relations Act in deeds and words against Barbara Collins, 37, and other employees who took part in protests and strikes.

The NLRB complaint reads: “During two national television news broadcasts and in statements to employees at Walmart stores in California and Texas, Walmart unlawfully threatened employees with reprisal if they engaged in strikes and protests; At stores in California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas and Washington, Walmart unlawfully threatened, disciplined, and/or terminated employees for having engaged in legally protected strikes and protests; At stores in California, Florida, Missouri and Texas, Walmart unlawfully threatened, surveilled, disciplined, and/or terminated employees in anticipation of or in response to employees’ other protected concerted activities.”

Wal-Mart has until Jan. 28 to respond, with no hearing date scheduled yet.

The company fired Collins of Placerville, CA (east of Sacramento), and other employees in 14 states who protested Wal-Mart’s labor practices and policies. She wants the global retailer to be accountable for its actions.

“We want to be reinstated, receive back pay, and have Wal-Mart post federal labor laws covering the rights of my co-workers and me to speak out at work,” she said by phone.

Outwardly, Collins is an ordinary person. She is a parent of a teen girl, and pre-teen boy. Yet her workplace experience and response to it is extraordinary.

To this end, Collins became a member of OUR Walmart in June 2011: http://forrespect.org/ She with other OUR Walmart members, and help from the United Food and Commercial Workers union, are collectively resisting the labor conditions of the world’s largest private-sector employer.

This low-wage retail workers’ campaign began after the Occupy Wall St. movement emerged, popularizing the language opposing an economic system that gorges the top one percent, and harms the bottom 99 percent. The Occupy movement’s audacious protests gave wind to the sails of OUR Walmart’s demands for better jobs.

In no small way, Collins personifies a trend of U.S. labor politics, resistance to at-will, union-free employment. Against a history of U.S. working-class demobilization and upward income redistribution, she is a strong voice of a national grassroots movement for improved labor standards as precarious work conditions plague the economy.

OUR Walmart received a hand from Jobs With Justice, a national labor-community group with local chapters. “We’re glad the NLRB is taking action,” said Sarita Gupta, who helms JwJ.

Wal-Mart has deep pockets to fight the demands of its dissident workers and their backers. The global company personifies capital, which grows by running roughshod over labor, which OUR Walmart opposes.

Society’s top dogs, as author and abolitionist Frederick Douglass noted 150 years ago, concede zero without demands from underdogs. Class struggle then and now is the name of the game.

Seth Sandronsky is a journalist in Sacramento. Email sethsandronsky@gmail.com.