The Wal-Mart Chinese Workers Association, a Chinese labor union representing Wal-Mart workers in the country, reached out to U.S.-based OUR Walmart for advice on strikes at China Wal-Mart stores in July, Reuters reports. Wal-Mart did not comment on the report, Reuters said.
With the help of a translator, OUR Walmart and the Wal-Mart Chinese Workers Association discussed strike strategy via Skype last month, both groups told Reuters.
OUR Walmart told Reuters that the group plans to continue to fortify its relationship with the Chinese workers, to strengthen its efforts to press Wal-Mart to improve worker conditions and pay.
Globalization is widely seen as having hurt workers in the U.S., as manufacturers move to set their operations in lower-cost overseas operations. But globalization may now be coming to worker advocacy, as demonstrated by this cooperation between Wal-Mart workers in China and the U.S.
"We can use this to collectively press Wal-Mart on issues," OUR Walmart co-director Dan Schlademan told Reuters.
That has been seen as unlikely—until now, experts told Reuters, for the very reason that overseas workers have been seen as American workers’ competition.
"Large American unions have supported labor movements in a few parts of the world over the years but not in China, so this is out of the ordinary," Nelson Lichtenstein, director of the Center for the Study of Work, Labor and Democracy at the University of California in Santa Barbara, told Reuters.
Chinese workers organized strikes in July at four stores in Nanchang, Chengdu and Harbin, involving some 60 employees at each store, Wal-mart employee Zhang Liya told Reuters.
Organizing has been particularly difficult for workers at Wal-Mart, which has gained a reputation for playing hardball with workers that protest or strike, in some cases earning rebuke from the National Labor Relations Board. Those difficulties last year helped cause the end of the association between OUR Walmart and the UFCW, which now contributes to the effort through funding rather than strategy or administration.
The international cooperation with Chinese workers could help offset the difficulties many workers have in the States, though Chinese workers have also had difficulty working with Wal-Mart when they recently protested scheduling policy changes, according to the Reuters report.
The two groups’ Skype call lasted almost an hour, and involved how to talk to Wal-Mart management and various recent successful labor actions in the U.S. The groups said they plan to continue to support each other via Skype and social media and will try to meet in person, according to Reuters.