July 05, 2012
In the largest-ever protest against Walmart, thousands of Southland residents marched through L.A.’s Chinatown to call for an end to the “Walmartization” of L.A.
Chinatown residents, community organizations, faith and labor leaders, musicians Tom Morello and Ben Harper, civil rights leader Dolores Huerta, US Congresswoman Judy Chu, L.A. Leader Maria Elena Durazo , L.A. LABOR LEADER MARIA ELENA DURAZO and union workers stood with Walmart associates and warehouse workers to call on the retailer to change the way it treats workers and communities.
“Our demands are clear. Walmart must provide a living wage, quality health care, demonstrate respect for local communities, and uphold workers’ rights here and around the world,” said Joe Hansen, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers international union.
Marchers passed through the streets of Chinatown as they made their way from Los Angeles State Historic Park (the Cornfield) to the intersection of Broadway and Cesar Chavez Blvd. – the proposed site of a controversial new Walmart store. Speakers called on Walmart to stop its cycle of impoverishing communities and on city officials to reject Walmart’s proposal for a store in Chinatown.
"We don’t want Walmart to destroy Chinatown and unique neighborhoods across L.A. and the United States just to make a few executives in the Walton family richer," said Tom Morello, guitarist with Rage Against the Machine. Morello, performing under his folk rock moniker The Nightwatchman, sang his popular “Union Song” and what he called the “uncensored version” of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.”
Fellow Grammy winner and singer-songwriter Ben Harper showed up between touring gigs to play “We Can’t End this Way.” Harper, a downtown Los Angeles resident, spoke powerfully about how Walmart would negatively affect his community.
In the run-up to the massive rally, local and national momentum continued to build as thousands united to call on Walmart to improve its treatment of workers and communities. Grammy winner Steve Earle released a song urging Angelenos to come to today’s rally and all three major Los Angeles mayoral candidates – City Controller Wendy Greuel, City Councilmember Eric Garcetti and City Councilmember Jan Perry – pledged their support for the rally and promised not to take money from Walmart.
"For far too long corporations like Walmart have been getting special treatment, while middle-class families have been struggling in this tough economy and bearing the brunt of the tax burden. Let’s send a message that our city needs responsible development that builds our middle class and encourages the growth of a thriving small business sector,” said Greuel.
New energy has been building for months as Walmart associates, warehouse workers and community supporters have denounced the retailer’s alleged Mexican bribery scandal and cover-up, labor violations at warehouses that move Walmart goods in Southern California and the company’s aggressive efforts to open a Chinatown store against the wishes of local residents.
Controversy continues to swirl in Los Angeles around the proposed Chinatown Walmart and questions are growing about how the company may have manipulated the building approval process. Permits were approved with little oversight and public input in the dead of night—before the L.A. City Council could vote on an ordinance that would have potentially impacted the chain’s ability to build a store in Chinatown.
Chinatown residents decried Walmart’s attempts to locate a store there. “We don’t want to see a Walmart in our historic community,” said King Cheung, a Chinatown resident and member of the Chinatown Community for Equitable Development. “When Walmart comes to town, mom-and-pops are forced to close, people lose their jobs and livelihoods, and the jobs Walmart creates keep people in poverty and force them to rely on public assistance for basic needs like healthcare. Chinatown is not the first community to fight to keep Walmart out—and unless the company changes, we won’t be the last.”
“Walmart’s chief product is poverty. Walmart gets rich by keeping its employees poor; however, Walmart workers are organizing for decent wages and affordable benefits. They have the right to dignity and respect and Walmart can afford to do better. Until Walmart stops selling poverty, we don’t want it in Los Angeles,” said Maria Elena Durazo, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the L.A. County Federation of Labor. This march marked the largest mobilization of rank-and-file union members in support of Walmart associates and warehouse workers, who are organizing to improve conditions.
The demonstrators announced specific demands, which they said Walmart must meet in order to restore trust among workers, communities and customers. “I work hard at Walmart’s Crenshaw store, but even with a promotion, I still have to rely on public healthcare for my kids,” said Girshriela Green, a Walmart associate and member of OUR Walmart, a growing organization of Walmart associates nationwide. “Working hard should mean getting ahead – but it doesn’t at Walmart. If we don’t put an end to the Walmart model of making a few people rich and keeping the rest of us struggling, we are going to live in a country with no middle class at all. For my kids and for my community, I’m speaking out for change at Walmart.”
Walmart has had a recent string of setbacks in its efforts to build new stores in urban areas as communities push back against the company. Walmart recently abandoned plans to develop two stores in the Boston metro area after local residents voiced strong opposition to the planned stores. The company’s New York efforts have been stalled as the New York City Comptroller filed a lawsuit in connection with the recent bribery scandal.