Occupy Long Beach Protests Downtown Wal-Mart on Behalf of Workers

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A Wal-Mart employee crosses in front of Occupy Long Beach members protesting the retail giant. Photo by Greggory Moore.

Approximately 30 members of Occupy Long Beach assembled in front of the Wal-Mart Friday afternoon to do what store employees chose to eschew, joining Wal-Mart employees at stores across the country in protesting the retail giant for what many perceive as unfair labor practices.

"For decades, Walmart Stores, Inc have dragged down wages, forcing their workers to work irregular schedules, and intimidated and took retribution on any workers who fought back," read a Facebook event page set up by Occupy Long Beach. "It's time for the retribution to end, so come to this local Walmart to show your solidarity and tell Walmart that they need to pay their fair share."

About a half-dozen LBPD officers were on the scene, telling the Long Beach Post they had been called by Wal-Mart management. However, police noted that because the OLBers generally confined themselves to "public access" and were not impeding shoppers from going about their business, there was no cause to take any action.

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That changed when police cited one protestor for vandalism after she chalked various anti-Wal-Mart messages on the cement across from the store, and another protestor was arrested for interfering with officers' investigation. During the arrest, protesters formed a semi-circle around the police officers and chanted, "We are people, and you are not!"

A sampling of Wal-Mart employees working at the time of the protest found a general appreciation for the protesters' presence. Three-year Wal-Mart employee Bryce (a pseudonym) said one reason he and his co-workers decided not to participate in the protests happening at many Wal-Marts across the country is simply the need for money.

"The people here, we're close," he said. "We heard what was going on, and we all talked. But up here with a lot of people it's business first: they going to come and get their money. They seen the time-and-a-half for holiday pay, and they're saying, 'We're about to go and get this money, and we'll complain later,' you know? But we're probably feeling how [the protesters] feel. […] I do appreciate the work that they're doing."

Bryce named fear of retaliation from management as another reason employees chose not to join in the protests.

Despite the protest, the downtown Wal-Mart store was inundated with customers, even though many were aware of issues with Wal-Mart as an employer.

"I understand what they're saying," said Robert, a regular Wal-Mart shopper. "The wages are too low. I understand they want $13 an hour. That's fair. Actually, that's really low in today's society."

"As far as the money goes, they should get more," said Eric, a sporadic Wal-Mart customer. "All that [i.e., the issues enumerated by the protesters] shouldn't be. This is America."

Wal-Mart reports that Friday was the retailer's most successful Black Friday ever.

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