The strike by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT) workers that occurred off and on over the Thanksgiving/Black Friday weekend did not put a dent in the sales of the world’s largest retailer, according to its management. Walmart employs more hourly workers than any other company in America — 1.4 million. McDonald’s Corp. (NYSE: MCD) and Yum! Brands Inc. (NYSE: YUM) are not far behind Walmart with 1.6 million hourly workers between them. Some of these workers will take to the streets to protest low wages and the right to unionize. These workers almost certainly will do no better than their counterparts at Walmart. There is no public interest in their complaints, which leaves them to battle their employers without outside support. Customers who want fast food very likely will walk right by their pickets.
Workers at McDonald’s, Taco Bell, KFC and Burger King will walk off their jobs in New York City. They call their effort “Fast Food Forward,” which aims to get better pay and benefits for the 50,000 people who work in the fast-food industry in the country’s largest city. The group claims that its members “can’t afford basic necessities like food, clothing, and rent.” Among other claims are that, if their pay is raised over time to $15 an hour, it will “help get New York’s economy moving again.” That is very unlikely. A few dollars an hour spread across 50,000 people hardly will help a city of 8 million people at all.
The history of labor works against these fast-food strikers. Pickets rarely impress the public. The public wants what it wants when it wants it. Inexpensive food and services sold by retailers and restaurants are no exception.
The history of effective strikes almost always involves one of two things. The first is a real disruption of the sales and profits of the companies that are the targets of strikes. To dent Walmart’s business, hundreds of thousands of people would have to walk out for days. The same is true in the fast-food industry. The New York City action does not come close to that level. The last time there was an effective strike in New York was probably the walkout staged by newspaper workers in 1962 — half a century ago.
The other set of actions that impresses employers involves some kind of violence, usually against property, and sometimes against people. Management and law enforcement are too well-organized to allow that to happen anymore, for more than a few moments anyway. And organized workers have lost their teeth for the kinds of actions that auto workers and miners took many decades ago.
The Walmart worker protests and those at fast food firms will be unsuccessful. Management and the public do not care enough.
Douglas A. McIntyre