May 4, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – It wasn't exactly pitchforks and torches, but union members and other pro-worker groups vowing to keep Walmart out of New York City brandished eight-foot-tall "plungers" outside the home of billionaire mogul Alice Walton's Park Avenue digs on May Day.
The Friday afternoon action came as part of a greater labor rally that saw a cross-section of public and private workers joining together to agitate for systemic changes in the workplace.
"Not one of us is going to allow a Walmart in New York City," Kelly Egan, a director with United Food and Commercial Workers Local 342, told LaborPress. "The minute they bring Walmart into New York City and deal with unions, they're going to have a major issue. If they don't think they have one now, just wait."
The cartoon plungers that protesters waved on Park Avenue on May 1, were in answer to the recent closure of five California Walmart stores allegedly due to so-called "plumbing issues" and the subsequent firing of some 2,000 workers there.
Whether denouncing Walmart's anti-worker policies, the fight to establish a $15 an hour minimum wage, or confronting ongoing social and economic inequalities, many at the rally said that workers throughout the United States could be approaching an historic tipping point.
"I think this is the moment," 58-year-old LiUNA member Juan Mazlymian said, just before he and hundreds of workers assembled at East 60th Street marched down "Billionaire's Row." "Maybe we will see some changes. We are tired of seeing politicians promise and promise just to get us to vote for them. But they don't deliver on what they promise."
The broad coalition of construction workers, students, musicians, home care workers and others ran the gamut from those just kicking off their work years to others with decades on the job.
"This is a community," said 22-year-old Chris Bates, a Local 802 musician in New York for just barely a year. "Everybody's looking for progress and trying to move forward."
Some attending the rally drew a strong correlation between widespread workplace injustice and the Black Lives Matter movement.
"Both are really arguing the fact that corporations like Walmart and McDonald's – just like the NYPD – devalue black and brown bodies," said Rebecca Breslaw, a 20-year-old student organizer at Columbia University – Barnard College.
Egan called the coalescing of organized labor, students and other worker activists a "perfect storm of everything coming together," before delivering a final warning to the Walton family.
"Walmart is going to have to deal with every issue that's on the table whether they like it or not – either in court or on the streets," she said.