How to Walk Out

– Maddie H.

One of the most important tools anyone can use to resist injustice is economic pressure. Whether it’s externally boycotting or internally refusing to provide your labor, economic pressure can be an extremely effective form of resistance, which is why corporations are particularly desperate to stop people from using that power. As one of the key participants in the recent walkout at furniture retailer Wayfair, there’s only one core message that I’d like to get across to readers about this tactic: You Can Do This Too

In case you missed it in the news, Wayfair’s business-to-business sales team recently made a $200,000 sale (for a profit of about $86,000) to a contractor furnishing concentration camps on the border. As soon as employees found out about this sale, there was a petition circulated to ask that we donate all profits from the sale and establish a code of ethics to avoid making similar sales in the future. The petition garnered about 500 signatures within a matter of hours. Management’s response to this petition was a hard no, which led to hundreds of employees walking out in protest. Internally, the core group of walkout organizers is continuing to keep the pressure up on management to concede to the original letter’s demands.

Tech workers, who comprised most of the walkout participants, don’t generally think of themselves as workers, and don’t usually consider organizing as an option open to them. And yet, they are some of the country’s most well-positioned workers in terms of negotiating power. Only time will tell whether this action can bump some tech workers out of thinking of themselves as company “family members” who want to get along with management, and into an awareness of their labor power. It’s heartening to see an upsurge in events like the Google walkouts and protests of Palantir and Amazon, and as a socialist I strongly believe that it is imperative for us to be instigators of this type of action. 

Given the interwoven threads of capitalism across our lives, odds are that some aspect of your life, whether it’s your employer or a corporate headquarters in your neighborhood or a store you frequent, intersects in some way with an atrocity; even an innocuous furniture company can be profiting off of concentration camps. It’s our responsibility, as people who care and want to resist those atrocities, to figure out these intersections and the ways we can most effectively apply leverage to make it economically and socially more trouble than it’s worth for your employer/local grocery store/extended family/whoever to keep engaging in business as usual.

Here are some hot tips for how you, too, can be a pain in your CEO’s ass:

  • If you’re reading this, you’re probably some flavor of socialist. Amazing! Be one very loudly, and be a leader. Be the furthest pole to the left for your group and set the tone for how people engage. Don’t agree with anything less than what your principles are, and be calm while also being absolutely unshakeable in terms of what you’re asking for. Don’t compromise! Your committee doesn’t work with management: management works with your committee. Also, don’t believe anything they tell you until they put it in writing and go public with it, and always bring at least one other person into any meeting with management.
  • Know your rights in the workplace! Concerted action to improve your workplace is protected under the law, and your company CANNOT LEGALLY FIRE YOU for it. They may still try, hoping that you won’t bring a lawsuit. In case they do, make sure you and your coworkers have verifiable documentation of your involvement with the action (this runs slightly counter to some general lefty security advice, but this is one case where you want to have a paper trail). Definitely don’t let them get away with claiming that any lack of retaliation is out of the goodness of their hearts. They CAN fire you for talking to the press against their wishes, so be aware of that when you choose someone or a set of people to be spokespeople.

  • Leverage your community outside of your workplace! This walkout would have been a very different event without all of our amazing supporters.

  • Does your workplace have Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)? These are worker affinity groups formed around an identity or topic, and getting involved with one can be a great way to meet other people in your workplace who have similar issues or grievances. If you don’t have them, consider starting one.

  • When you do take action, people absolutely will not be taking it for perfect reasons. I can trace my radicalization back to being engaged in a union fight in college because I had a crush on one of the organizers, and then having a “holy shit” moment when the workers actually WON! Someone will be walking out because they want to impress someone, or because of peer pressure from their coworkers. That’s fine! Sometimes it takes something personal to push someone into trying something scary. Aim to have people *feel* what it’s like to engage in collective disobedience. People don’t need to be all on the same page to take worthwhile action together, and you can’t personally check in with every single person engaging in a mass action to make sure they understand the tactics and are fully bought in. Keep the messaging simple, bring people along with you, and put real trust in them, knowing that they don’t deserve it yet: people want to grow into the trust that you put in them.

  • You don’t need me to tell you this, but don’t waste time on the haters. There will be people trying to talk you down, argue about your tactics, draw you out into the open and fillet you with their high school Model UN debate skills. I know it’s tempting, but don’t give them the time of day; don’t even look in the places where they’re making noise. Be firm, keep your messaging positive, and discourage core people from getting sucked in.

  • Remember that any fight is never the last one. How do you build relationships between the core people and keep them talking after the fight is over, preferably won? Whatever your action is/was, it’s just one piece in a larger puzzle of resistance. As long as you are employed at will, you’ve got something to fight about.

  • The key thing that can help you work towards any positive change is to build your relationships with coworkers and gain their respect and trust. I recommend building this trust through a background campaign on an issue that your coworkers care about; you can build a lot of community through something like petitioning management to replace a broken coffee machine or designate a gender-neutral bathroom. Through these smaller projects, you can more easily identify workplace leaders, build your reputation, and get people used to a more confrontational and less familial relationship with their management. 

Good luck!

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