Led by their trade union chairman, Huang Xingguo, around 78 Walmart employees are camped outside the delivery depot of Walmart store No.2024, determined to prevent the company from removing goods from the shuttered building.
The workers have been there since early March, protesting Walmart’s unilateral decision to close the store in the central city of Changde, giving employees only minimal compensation. The workers are demanding at least twice what the company is offering in terms of severance pay and have vowed to stay on the picket line until the company agrees to negotiate with the union.
The workers have set up tents and sleep on cardboard. They take shifts, some watching the depot, some cooking meals, and some making pillows from the stuffed toys discarded by the company. They add regular updates on their blog, which has now become a valuable archive of an unprecedented effort by an enterprise trade union in China to stand up for workers’ rights.
“I have chosen to safeguard workers’ right until the end,” Huang Xingguo told the Beijing News on Wednesday – Day 48 of the protest.
Another worker, Xiao Hong, added: “Colleagues, we must hold on, hold on, and hold on. The victory is ahead, people from Changde will never give up.”
Walmart workers in Changde united and defiant
The determination of the workers seems to be winning over the local authorities in Changde as well. The local government initially sided with the employer and sent police in to clear the store on 21 March. One of the workers was detained but subsequently released. The authorities are now taking a more neutral stance. They have even helped the workers maintain the picket line and ordered trucks hired by Walmart to disperse, according to the workers’ blog.
With the help of labour law expert Chang Kai and a lawyer from the Changde Municipal Trade Union Federation, the workers and the store trade union are now filing a claim against Walmart at the local labour dispute arbitration committee.
The move came as another Walmart employee, Wang Shishu, who was fired by Walmart in Shenzhen in 2012, finally won his lawsuit against the company for illegal dismissal on 23 April 2014. Even though he won, Wang, a 54-year-old army veteran, turned down the 220,000 yuan severance payment offered by Walmart and continued to press for reinstatement.
Wang was one of several Walmart employees in Shenzhen who, in the summer of 2012, helped to organize co-workers and lobbied the store’s trade union to initiate collective bargaining with management in a bid to resolve long-standing employee grievances. At the end of July 2012, Wang was dismissed on the grounds of “seriously violating company regulations and damaging the company’s image.” He staged a long-running protest outside Walmart’s Xianmihu store demanding reinstatement, and later joined a labour rights organization based in the city.