Still Laboring for Justice

Corporations are individuals–but women just might not count as a class of people. Especially if these million-plus women have worked for Walmart, the largest employer in the world.

The discount retailing behemoth has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether those women can file a class-action suit against it; four lower courts have already said yes to the jumbo case, but Walmart wants the women to file individually or in smaller groups. Eventually, when the case comes to trial (it’s already gone on for nine years), judges will have to decide whether Walmart will be held accountable for decades of alleged employment discrimination. The company has already been busted, in court or in the press, for trying to refuse to sell the morning-after pill, locking overnight employees in stores and allegedly routinely denying workers meal times and rest breaks and avoiding paying overtime.

The Walmart case is making news again following a spate of 2009 panicky mainstream media recirculating the theme “Women gain as men lose jobs.” But what does it matter if women outnumber men in the workforce if Walmartization is the grim future?

Feminist sources continue to refocus on the real employment numbers. Working women today will have less of everything that matters–benefits, salary, job security, worksite autonomy–than the disappearing employed male. As a class, women still make less than 80 percent of men’s salaries, and wage inequities and employment rates are most significant for women of color (national unemployment rates for August: white women, 7.1 percent; Hispanic women, 11.6 percent; and black women, 13.2 percent).

As the Labor Day holiday arrives, built from the sweat and the not-yet-broken backs of striking wage workers willing to act up, let’s celebrate and remember the class of women that have, and continue to, organize for labor justice, including Lilly Ledbetter, Dolores Huerta, Leslie Feinberg, Mother Jones, Anna Julia Cooper, Grace Lee Boggs and Jane Addams.

Resistance is not futile. A class of women and other rabble-rousers can push back against a Walmart future. Check out the amazing work of the Union of Domestic Workers and the Bus Riders Union. Maybe labor justice is not found in the courts, but instead on shop floors, in kitchen-table politics and on the streets.

Photo by Flickr user Brave New Films under license from Creative Commons 2.0.