I have been working on the Wal-mart Black Friday actions for the past couple weeks for my organization, the Interfaith Worker justice (IWJ). The Interfaith Worker Justice is a national organization located in Chicago whose mission is to organize, mobilize, and encourage communities of faith to advocate for workers' rights (and worker justice). As a recently new US-2 missionary commissioned by General Board of Global Ministries of the UMC, I was commissioned to Chicago to work with IWJ as my placement site.
In the past couple weeks, my job tasks has allowed me to participate in Jubilee at Wal-mart, which has been IWJ’s Wal-mart campaign, inciting the religious rhetoric of Jubilee in the Judeo-Christian tradition for management and owners of Wal-mart to share their resources and wealth with their workers. It is with this same token that IWJ seeks to advocate that the 1.4 million Wal-mart workers be provided a living wage, decent minimum hours, less costly health care, and better working conditions.
At the heart of this issue and various worker-related campaigns is dignity and respect. It is fundamental for our co-existence as humans and for God’s creation to acknowledge the dignity and worthy of all people. This also applies to the work and labor that the individual offers to the world with their talents and gifts. Like my friend said to me, work is dignified because humans are dignified. Thereby it’s important for Wal-mart to acknowledge the dignity and respect of people and the work they produce. As a missionary serving at IWJ, I have come to understand that labor allows God’s mission and ministry to be done in the world.
Some of my job tasks had included creating a flash mob tutorial video, and reaching out to our affiliates to get involved in the Black Friday actions. And in these past couple weeks, I have been transformed by this experience. I discovered a passion for this campaign because I saw the economic injustice and the welfare of humans being tarnished. I was hearing stories of individuals not being given minimum hours unable to pay their rent, a worker going to management saying they needed more hours to pay for their rent and management at Wal-mart providing church communities that could help them out rather than working to help them get hours to make ends meet. Wal-mart workers are struggling to pay for food, rent, and health care. The worst part of it that struck a chord with me was to hear and read the CEO of Wal-mart, Mike Duke had a total compensation of $18.1 million per the 2012 shareholder report while a total compensation for a full-time worker is $8.83/hr or $15,000 a year putting the full-time worker below the poverty line. This should be a red flag for any person of faith. Is God’s justice reigning in this world? How are some people struggling for survival and others are grossly rewarded for the hard labor of other individuals?
After my personal investment in this campaign at IWJ with all the calls and work, I stood in solidarity with Wal-mart workers in the Black Friday actions in Chicago, to stand against the largest private employer and the nation’s largest retailer to treat their workers with dignity and respect and provide them with a living wage, decent minimum hours, less costly health care, an end to retaliation and for workers to freely associate (if they so choose), and better working conditions.
We are like the biblical narrative of David and Goliath and unless we stand up against this big retailer like Wal-mart who makes billion of dollars in profit each year saying, “You come against me with low prices on the backs of hard labor from some impoverished workers and communities devastated by Wal-mart, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God that said liberate your workers and provide them with dignity and respect," we would not have brought about justice into this world.
It is time for Jubilee, my brothers and sisters! It is time for Jubilee!
Mistead Sai is currently a US-2 missionary commissioned by the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church to Chicago, IL where he works with Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ).