(Photo credit: asterix611)

The United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) union is going to picket 1,000 Wal-Mart stores this coming Friday, hoping to dissuade Walmart shoppers to go elsewhere and put pressure on Walmart to accede to its demands to unionize its workers. It’s been tried before and failed. It will fail again.

For years, the United Food & Commercial Workers union has tried and failed to organize Walmart workers. In recent months, the union has adopted a new tactic: backing two groups, OUR Walmart and Making Change at Walmart, and waging a campaign and mounting protests comprised of activists and Walmart workers at stores and warehouses around the U.S.

It won’t work, for two reasons: the union has to recruit lots of people to stand in the picket lines. And those picket lines will have to reduce traffic into those Walmart stores. Neither will happen:

To work, the approach will require protest leaders to turn out significant numbers of strikers and persuade deal-chasing shoppers to go elsewhere. Similar protests in recent weeks have had little perceptible impact on the world’s largest retailer.

The strategy is flawed at its core. Most workers at Walmart are happy to be working there. Or else they wouldn’t.

But the other problem is this: where else would shoppers go? Walmart is the place for low prices. Sure, it has competitors: KMart, Sears, JCPenney, Best Buy, and so forth. But as Zev Eigen, a professor who specializes in labor relations at Northwestern, so eloquently put it:

Shoppers in the parking lot will say “Oh, that’s terrible. OK, [so] where do I go to get my discounted electronics?”

That’s one of the big challenges for the labor movement. [They’ll] sign online petitions, but [they] won’t vote with [their] wallets.

As expected, union organizers are having trouble recruiting picketers. 30 workers from six Walmart stores in Seattle were all they were able to muster for a strike last Thursday. Let’s see: Walmart has 4,500 stores and employs 1,400,000 people. Can you spell “infinitesimal?”

In fact, Walmart is taking the battle to the union, filing a complaint against it with the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board). A Walmart spokesman said: “We are taking this action now because we cannot allow the UFCW to continue to intentionally create an that could directly and adversely impact our customers and associates. If they do, they will be held accountable.”

Don’t expect to see any picket lines at Walmart on Friday. If you do, you’ll be witnessing the last gasp of a dying movement.

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