Several thousand protesters turned out June 30 in Los Angeles to voice their opposition to the planned move into the city’s Chinatown neighborhood by the retail giant Wal-Mart.
Union and civil-rights activists addressed the event, while demonstrators shouted complaints that Wal-Mart “hurts the 99%” and “Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart you’re no good, treat your workers like you should.”
Wal-Mart’s plans to build an outlet in the historic Chinatown district have produced considerable controversy in Los Angeles. The company was granted building permits for the store in March, just one day before the Los Angeles City Council voted to approve a moratorium on “big-box” stores.
The 33,000-square-foot store is a much-downsized Wal-Mart compared to the chain’s sprawling Supercenters, and is to be located on the ground floor of an existing apartment building that reportedly has been vacant for some time. The store will be one of Wal-Mart’s “Neighborhood Markets,” offering groceries, pharmaceuticals and general merchandise.
“Walmart Neighborhood Markets offer a quick and convenient shopping experience for customers who need groceries, pharmaceuticals, and general merchandise all at our famous Every Day Low Prices,” the company says in the About Us section of its website.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
|A Walmart Neighborhood Market in Tulsa, Okla. The stores are much smaller than the chain’s Supercenters and offer groceries, pharmaceuticals and general merchandise.|
The website says the company operates 199 Walmart Neighborhood Markets, with a typical store size at 42,000 square feet; the chain’s Supercenters weigh in at an average of 185,000 square feet. The company opened its first Neighborhood Market in 1998.
Opponents Cite Impact
on Small Businesses, Workers
Neighborhood Market or not, opponents said a Wal-Mart in Chinatown would only take a toll on local small businesses and workers.
“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 according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.
“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,” Cheung said.
But a Wal-Mart representative said the size of the protest was far less than advance billing had projected, adding that “the special interests fell well short of their goal.” (See Thousands rally against Wal-Mart in Chinatown.)
The Wal-Mart spokesman, Steven V. Restivo, 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,” according to the Times story.
Opposition far from Universal
Opinion in the community and among business leaders is far from universal in opposition to Wal-Mart. In an open letter to residents, the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Los Angeles and the Asian Business Association accused unions of “playing political games with our community,” one news report said.
The president of the Chinatown Business Improvement District said most people in the neighborhood support the new store. “If our local residents had told us, ‘We don't want this in Chinatown,’ I would have been out in front against it,” he said, according to another story in the Times.
Unions Play Central Role in Protest
Participants in the protest included union leaders, owners of existing Chinatown businesses and even some Wal-Mart workers.
“When they corporatize business, all small businesses do is die,” Carter Lee, son of the owner of Ocean Pacific restaurant, told The Huffington Post. “They just keep sucking profit out of the local community. It's like a black hole.”
Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello performed union songs, including an “uncensored” version of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land,” with protestors joining in.
The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, called the event the “largest ever protest against Walmart in U.S. history” and said “union workers from every industry marched alongside Wal-Mart and warehouse workers, Chinatown residents, community and civil rights groups, faith leaders and activists,” and others.
Singer-songwriter and Los Angeles native Ben Harper also performed and told the crowd, “There are 5,000 places where people might welcome Wal-Mart, but we don't welcome them here.”
Wal-Mart’s Restivo, meanwhile, said in a blog posting on June 29, prior to the protest, that Los Angeles residents “aren’t looking for protests—they’re looking for solutions” to unemployment, city budget shortfalls and “families struggling to make ends meet.”
“With the County unemployment rate above 11 percent, one would think that an effort to create private sector jobs would be applauded, especially from a business that offers competitive wages, affordable benefits and the chance to build a career,” Restivo said in Protests Don’t Help Communities, But Walmart Does.