In what was billed as the largest mass protest in history against the retail giant, an estimated 10,000 union members and community leaders rallied on Saturday against the building of a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market in Los Angeles’ historic Chinatown. It’s one of three Neighborhood Markets slated for Southern California, carrying with them the threat of low wages, harm to small businesses in the area and, in the eyes of the protest organizers, poverty.
“Wal-Mart’s chief product is poverty,” said Maria Elena Durazo, the head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, one of the lead organizers of the event. “Wal-Mart gets rich by keeping their workers poor. Wal-Mart gets rich by taxpayers paying for the health care and well-being of their workers through Medicaid and food stamps.”
It’s unclear exactly what the strategy is to stop the Chinatown Wal-Mart, as the company already has permits to build a 33,000 square foot retail space on the first floor of an existing apartment building. A day before the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to put a moratorium on big box stores this March, Wal-Mart, in what labor leaders described as a miraculous event, received the building permits.
Perhaps the plan is to rally mass action against Wal-Mart, to raise negative publicity and force the retail giant to change their plans. The presence of Wal-Mart associates who complained of poverty wages and maltreatment speaks to that. But so far that has not worked, as this quote from the company yesterday shows:
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,”