Striking Chinese WalMart Workers Contact U.S. Counterparts for Support

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Wal-Mart workers in China, pushed to strike due to shifting schedules and demanding the right to government-free unions and leaders, have contacted U.S. Wal-Mart activists to garner support. And one group of strikers there carried a sign supporting the Fight for 15 here.

In a July 20 Skype conference call, the Chinese workers, who banded together into the Walmart Workers Network, discussed common issues with Our Walmart, a group of indepen-dent U.S. Walmart workers, Hong Kong and independent Chinese labor newspapers say.

The Chinese workers asked for U.S. support in their struggle against the monster retailer, one Our Walmart leader, Cantare Davunt, told Reuters. An Our Walmart colleague added the Chinese and U.S. workers can use their collaboration to press Walmart managers on common issues. And the Chinese workers sent a solidarity letter backing the Fight for 15.

The Walmart Workers Network, also called the Walmart Chinese Workers Association (WCWA) had to strike four retail stores from July 1-4, The China Labour Bulletin reported. Some 200 workers struck. Last year, China had 2,774 worker protests, double those in 2014.

At Wal-Mart, key issues are scheduling – up to 174 hours a month with no overtime pay -- and free elections for leaders in an independent union. The WCWA is not part of China’s official All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), which the government controls. ACFTU signed a 2006 deal allowing management-controlled unions. By contrast, WCWA has 40 WeChat groups with 20,000 members, or one-fifth of China’s Walmart workers.

“We are going to stand our ground,” Zhang Liya, a founding member of the workers’ network, told the Labour Bulletin. Walmart unlawfully fired Zhang Liya for “running for the trade union presidency in Store 1059 in Shenzhen.” Zhang Liya said its attacks “made more people awaken, and have turned their indignation into persistence.”

At least 130 workers marched through one big Walmart Nanchang store chanting “Walmart workers stand up!” and “No to the comprehensive working hours system.” That’s the new forced scheduling Walmart. Their action prompted workers at two other Chinese Walmart retail stores – a smaller one in Nanchang and another store in Chengdu – to also walk out.

 Another WCWA leader, Wang Shishu, called the new hours system “a move by upper management to maximize flexibility.” If Walmart closes a store, he told the labor paper, “They could force anyone to quit by shuffling their shifts around and making their lives harder. They’d save huge sums of money in severance fees.” A leaked Walmart document on the new sche-duling system claims it would not affect full-timers’ employment, seniority or legal benefits. 

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