Why Progressive Faith Leaders Joined Workers For Black Friday Walmart Protests

Our guest blogger is Jack Jenkins, a Writer and Researcher with the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

When workers at Walmart stores across the country went on strike last Friday to protest the retailer’s allegedly low wages and poor working conditions, media outlets were quick to label the controversy as a disagreement primarily between the retail giant and labor groups.

But the Walmart strikers also appear to have another, less-discussed ally: faith groups.

Mixed in with the labor organizers and striking Walmart employees, religious leaders and faith-based groups showed up in force outside of Walmarts across the country on Friday in support of the workers, helping to lead protest actions in Wichita, Kansas, Davenport, Iowa, and Alexandria, Virginia, among others.

“We want to see them treating their workers fairly and paying fair wages and benefits for people who are making it possible for them to be in business,” said Rev. David Hansen, a minister who protested with workers in Wichita on Friday.

Faith groups have reportedly been an integral part of the strike since its inception. OUR Walmart, the main organizational force behind of the nation-wide protests, encouraged activists to hold ‘‘Black Friday Prayer Vigils” as a way of expressing support. Similarly, the Interfaith Worker Justice, a faith-based organizing initiative that “fight[s] for economic and worker justice,” pushed its organizers and activists to attend local Walmart strikes and even produced a liturgy for activists to use during the protest.

“We pray for justice at the work place for Walmart workers, and all workers who don’t get to share in the success and profit of the companies at which they work,” read one of prayers from the liturgy.

Strikers garnered support from religious sources outside of the picket line as well. The United Church of Christ, a Christian denomination that boasts more than a million members, offered its own website as an organizing hub for activists. In addition, faith writers authors such as Susan Thistlethwaite, a professor at Chicago Theological Seminary and a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, and Noah H. Evans, an Episcopal priest in Massachusetts, publicly voiced their support for the strikers in various publications.

“Wal-Mart employees are trying to use tried-and-true labor actions to change [their situation],” Thistlethwaite wrote. “As a Christian minister, and one who cares about those driven to work harder while being kept at the poverty level, I support them.”

Like the strikers, many faith leaders and groups are making it clear that their support for the strikers is not a one-time event. Activists insist that if Walmart doesn’t begin listening to concerns about low wages and poor working conditions, workers and faith groups alike will keep protesting – and praying – until they do.