Community, faith and labor organizations mobilized this afternoon for a rally and civil disobedience action in support of thirty-eight workers on strike at a Walmart warehouse in Elwood, Illinois. They marched down to this distribution center, and, at least thirteen clergy and community leaders sat down and blocked an entrance to the center to prevent goods from arriving or leaving the warehouse. After the leaders sat down in the road, a security force believed to be the Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System Mobile Field Force, clad in riot gear, marched out and surrounded the leaders.
The security force arrested all of the people committing civil disobedience. They had an officer with a camera taking video of the action. They also drove a Humvee with an Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) out into the street and parked fifty to one hundred feet away from where people were being arrested. The warehouse was, according to Warehouse Workers for Justice (WWJ), completely shut down.
Live streamer “MoccupyChi” was on hand and captured the entire action, including the paramilitary force that greeted those engaged in nonviolent action.
Walmart had a private security force on hand to arrest clergy and community leaders there to support workers because the distribution center is located in a Foreign Trade Zone (FTZ). The distribution center, as WWJ’s website details, is also “one of the most important transportation and distribution hubs in the world.”
- The only location in the hemisphere where all six Class I railroads meet, Chicago transports half the nation’s rail freight.
- Seven interstate highways crisscross the Chicago region. Only two states have more interstate highway miles than Illinois. Chicago is a two-day truck haul from 219 million people, or 42% of the continent.
- Chicago is now, by some estimates, the third-largest container port in the world, after Hong Kong and Singapore.
- As a result, almost a trillion dollars worth of goods pass through the Chicago region every year.
The multinational corporation was prepared with the kind of police force one would expect at a national special security event, like a political convention, because the warehouse entrance the leaders were blocking with their bodies is possibly the “largest intermodal” distribution center in the country. [The riot police squad may have been a force tasked with policing the entire center, which other corporations in addition to Walmart use, and may not solely be a militarized force there to protect Walmart from—in this case—peaceful protesters.]
The workers at the Walmart warehouse have been on strike since September 15 of this year. They are employed by Roadlink, a Walmart contractor that handles the multinational corporation’s logistics. They went on strike to protest unfair labor practices that include retaliation against workers, who brought concerns to management and demanded regular hours and a living wage.
The workers were temporarily suspended when they went to management with these demands. Several of them were immediately fired.
WWJ reported a wage theft lawsuit had been filed for “non-payment for all hours worked, paying less than the minimum wage and non-payment of overtime worked” just days before. One of the plaintiffs was a worker immediately fired on the spot on September 15.
Workers striking in Elwood also aimed to show solidarity with warehouse workers in southern California, who went on strike to protest workplace retaliation by their employers, NFI and Warestaff. The California workers also move Walmart goods for these contractors.
Most of the leaders who were arrested were released immediately from jail.
*For more photos or labor organizing tweets, follow @daneyvilla on Twitter.
NOTE: Article was corrected at 8:23 PM EST to correct an inaccurate statement that a private security force had arrested demonstrators.