Several thousand people, led by a banner that read “Wal-Mart= Poverty,” marched through Chinatown in downtown Los Angeles Saturday to decry the giant retailer’s plans for a neighborhood grocery store and the chain’s low-end wage scale and non-unionized workforce.
“We believe small business will be hurt. Some will close down and there will be layoffs,” King Cheung, a member of the Chinatown Committee for Equitable Development, told the crowd. “We just can’t support a Wal-Mart who has no heart and no morals. We don’t want you in Chinatown. We don’t want you in Los Angeles.”
Wal-Mart intends to build a 33,000-square-foot store on the ground floor of an existing apartment building at Cesar Chavez and Grand avenues. The Los Angeles City Council approved a moratorium on big-box stores in March, but Wal-Mart was granted building permits for the store just a day before the vote.
Further angering those who oppose the retail giant: A few weeks ago an employee of a public relations firm hired by Wal-Mart was caught posing as a reporter at a news conference hosted by a group of critics. Wal-Mart has since dropped the firm.
A Wal-Mart official downplayed Saturday’s demonstration, saying “the special interests fell well short of their goal” in terms of turnout.
“Clearly, the vast majority of customers see Wal-Mart as part of the solution when it comes to things like jobs, healthier foods and sustainability,” Steven V. Restivo, senior director of community affairs for Wal-Mart, said in a statement. “We remain committed to serving customers here and look forward to opening new Walmart Neighborhood Market stores soon in Panorama City, Altadena and downtown Los Angeles.”
Wal-Mart, although reeling from allegations of corruption in its Mexican subsidiary, reported a profit of $3.74 billion for the three months that ended April 30, up about 10% from a year earlier.
Saturday’s march and rally, which was largely backed by labor groups, began at Los Angeles State Historic Park and ended under the dragon gates at Broadway and Cesar Chavez Avenue. Several civil rights and union activists delivered anti-Wal-Mart speeches, and Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello energized protesters with a version of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.”
“We are here to say no to low-wage jobs,” shouted Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.
“Wal-Mart is how the 1% hurts the 99%, and we won’t stand for it in L.A.,” she said, to resounding cheers. “Until you stop selling poverty, we don’t want you in L.A.”
Girshriela Green, 45, said that she works at a Wal-Mart on Crenshaw Boulevard and that she “came out today for change.”
“I hope to send a direct message that we will not take the abuse, the disrespect, the impoverished wages, the neglect of communities, associates and small businesses any longer,” Green said.
She looked out across the crowd gathering for the march and said it gave her strength.
“My voice is louder with each and every one of these voices,” she said.