Monday, December 19, 2005

Inside a South Florida Wal-Mart last Thursday, union-sponsored protesters handed out empty, gift-wrapped boxes to children and made them cry, according to multiple witnesses — and it appears that the arrests of two of the protesters may have been part of a grand strategy designed by Big Labor-backed

Yetdespiteinternal communication — obtained exclusively by this columnist — indicating that the union-funded front instructed its protesters to test police patience, the organization is now playing the race card since the two protesters arrested (out of 15 total) are both black.

Late in the afternoon last Thursday, two people dressed as elves, and, in the words of an employee, someone who “kind of looked like Santa,” walked into the North Lauderdale Wal-Mart armed with empty, gift-wrapped boxes and fliers. According to several Wal-Mart employees and the sheriff’s office, the presents were given to a number of children, and at least one, a 4-year-old boy, opened the gift inside the store.

Discovering that the box was empty, the little boy started crying., for its part, stands by the claims of its protesters that no boxes were given to children, but no one denies that empty, gift-wrapped boxes were brought inside the store. The symbolism, it seems, is fairly obvious: Wal-Mart’s promises on health care are, well, empty. Except to a kid. To a small child, such a stunt is just mean.

Not only do Wal-Mart employees interviewed for this column seem credible, but internal communication obtained exclusively by this columnist indicates that both giving “gifts” to children and tempting arrest might have been intentional.

In an internal PowerPoint presentation that lays out a 10-part timeline for attacking the retailer from late October through the end of the year, the ninth step — which is supposed to take place between Dec. 14 and Dec. 19 — calls for activists to place “Santa Claus in front of WMT stores with children asking for health care and signs.” Beneath that, though, it reads: “they can’t arrest Santa — and if they do, make sure the press is there.”

Interviewed for this column, spokesman Paul Blank said it was not meant as a call for instigation, but rather “tongue-in-cheek” advice for how to make it as hard as possible for the retailer to crack down on protests.

Most likely, overeager protesters misunderstood the spirit of the called-for Santa stunt. And common sense dictates that didn’t want its activists getting in shoving matches with Wal-Mart personnel—which is what both the employees and the Broward County Sheriff’s Office say happened.

But what seems undeniable is that at least wanted its protesters to try and provoke confrontation at individual stores. Why else mention the possibility of arrest? Yet what also seems undeniable is that, when questioned for this column, wasn’t quite truthful. Before being confronted about the internal communication, thespokesmanwas adamant that the union front group had “absolutely” never encouraged its protesters to be confrontational.

Perhaps fearful that the poorly executed production at the Florida Wal-Mart might cause serious damage to the hard-fought campaign, Mr. Blank sent out a statement accusing the retailer of having “targeted” the two protesters who were arrested. Mr. Blank referred to the race of the two no fewer than seven times, and even demanded an apology from Wal-Mart for, in essence, racially-motivated arrests.

Given that the Broward County Sheriff’s Office maintains that the man and woman arrested were the only ones who got physical—by shoving the manager and assistant manager after being asked to leave—WakeUpWalMart is also, by extension, accusing the police of racism. And lying. Yet why wasn’t Mr. Blank willing to say so directly?

The irony in Mr. Blank playing the race card is that the protesters appear to have had race on their mind from the moment they walked inside the store. According to several Wal-Mart employees, one of the union activists — described as a heavy-set white man — specifically asked for a female assistant manager, and when told they were paging her, he asked, “Is she white or is she black?” After being told that the female assistant manager is black, the man snorted, “Hmm. That’s unusual.”

Perhaps nothing more can be made of the man’s race question than the ramblings of a bizarre individual, but maybe there was a pre-planned racial element. Considering that’s credibility is shot — from claiming that protesters were not instructed to be confrontational to shamelessly creating phony charges of racism — does it not seem a fair question to ask?

Joel Mowbray occasionally writes for The Washington Times.

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