New River Workers Power Strike at Target

Richmond Struggle is proud to announce our solidarity with workers who participated in the strike against the Target in Christiansburg, Virginia.  After years of abuse at the hands of store manager, Daniel Butler, workers called a strike to demand the following:

  1. The immediate termination of Daniel Butler from Target
  2. Official recognition of (their) independent workers committee, which will handle all worker grievances at the Christiansburg Target store.

The strike was announced following the release of a series of current and past employee testimonials, collected by our comrades at New River Workers Power (NRWP), which are available for viewing [here]. The content of the testimonials is both shocking and disturbing, though all too common for workers across the world. The abuses that Daniel Butler has committed against his employees range from racist comments to non-consensual sexual advances and overt acts of physical violence. One anonymous worker states the following about him physically attacking them:

“At one point he lost control and grabbed me by the neck to stop me from trying to calmly explain why I didn’t move fast enough to help him out… When he grabbed me my supervisor was too intimidated by him and in fear of losing her job to document the event. He still verbally insults me every chance he gets.”

Another anonymous worker describes their experience with Daniel Butler’s unwanted sexual advances:

“I was sexually harassed and publicly humiliated on several different occasions. During a morning huddle of a major holiday, we had over 20 management and team members attending, Butler awkwardly announced the amount of weight I had lost and that I needed to get in the middle for everyone to see. Another incident, I was writing the daily line up on a whiteboard. He approached me, ran his hand from my elbow to my shoulder moving the sleeve of my blouse. He said ‘I just want to see your tattoo’.”

The testimonials all describe a pattern of behavior from Daniel Butler that not only created an agonizing environment for the majority of workers, but also made them fear for their physical safety. On different occasions, workers describe times that they went to the Human Resources department to file complaints about Butler, only for him to find out and victimize them for doing so. In this way, those who were wronged by Butler were intimidated out of filing complaints with the threat of violence or termination. A former HR worker describes Butler’s MO in their testimonial.

“Reports were never made due to fear of him finding out. When reports were made, he would find out. He would purposely seek out the workers who had made the report and follow them around the store during their shift.”

Another testimonial details Butler’s actions after making a racist comment that a worker immediately tried to report.

“One of the cashiers who was in the group ran directly to HR. He followed the cashier to make sure no report of the incident was made. The report was never made”

The events described above make clear the attitude with which Daniel Butler has conducted himself. However, he is not the only one that is to blame. It would be naive to only attribute all of the negative experiences of the Target workers to the actions of a depraved man who holds a position of power over them. Instead, it is the Target corporation itself that allowed this cruel behavior to continue after having been notified of its existence. On multiple occasions, workers notified the appropriate “authorities” within the Target corporation who are supposedly there for the safety of their employees. This unsurprisingly turned out to be false, and the complaints of the workers went ignored. The reality is that unless Target’s profits are threatened, it has little reason to care about the plight of those who labor to create its appropriated surplus value. Only the threat of a strike and boycott could motivate the Target corporation to pay attention.  

The strike itself enjoyed a great deal of attention and participation from the local community, according to NRWP. Many who came to the store refused to cross the picket line, and instead decided to shop elsewhere.  Workers from other sectors wrote [letters of support] and provided strikers with free food and water. Some workers even expressed interest in cooperating to build autonomous working class power in the New River Valley.  

Most notably, the strike was not pushed by an established union, but was sparked by the initiative of rank and file hourly workers. Free from the constraints that many modern labor unions place on their members in an effort to prevent striking, workers were able to take power into their own hands independently. The willingness for workers to organize outside of corporatist structures that seek to sublimate their collective discontent into ineffectual paper tiger resolutions is the first step towards the construction of a truly autonomous working class power. The rejection of Neoliberalism’s injunction to renegotiate the terms of employment without flexing the workers’ ability to forcibly halt production/reproduction is vital to the achievement of a revolutionary class consciousness in the twenty-first century.

Though the strike has ended, for now, it seems like a victory for the workers who we applaud for fighting back against an abusive management. Sales did not hit their quota for this week at the Christiansburg Target, and that itself should serve as a warning to Daniel Butler’s superiors. The workers are the ones who create the wealth of your business, and our society as a whole. Their power is the only one that matters.  Yours is built on a foundation of sand, and as was demonstrated this week, is a lot more delicate than you would like to believe. Wherever there is oppression, there is resistance!