Californians protest vs. Wal-Mart

The giant retailer Wal-Mart has set its sights on Rosemead, Calif., a small working-class city on the east side of Los Angeles. What concerns the labor movement most is that this time Wal-Mart seeks to build a “supercenter” that will sell groceries as well as clothing and hardware, competing with union retailers in the food industry. Wal-Mart was a major factor in last year’s supermarket strike.

The campaign against Rosemead’s Wal-Mart is convening its allies to help fight the construction, just as was done in Inglewood last year. The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor is calling on all labor and community activists to oppose the Rosemead City Council’s recent approval of Wal-Mart development. City council members were swayed by Wal-Mart’s promise of increased revenue for the city, an argument that is false on its face. Wal-Mart actually takes money away from the community by offering part-time, low wage employment that replaces higher paying union jobs.

After the Rosemead City Council approved the Wal-Mart supercenter project, residents took to the streets and gathered 2,700 signatures, more than the 1,600 signatures needed, to put an initiative on the ballot to rescind the decision. However, the council is arrogantly moving forward with the project. The labor federation is working with city residents to oust the incumbent city council and elect more responsive leaders. COPE-endorsed candidates for Rosemead City Council are Polly Low, John Nunez and John Tran. More information is available from the County Federation at (213) 381-5611, ext. 28.

Meanwhile, in Oakland, Calif., hundreds of building trades workers and other unionists and community allies held an early morning informational picket at the site of a new Wal-Mart being built in East Oakland. The immediate issue was an “area standards” protest against Frazier Masonry, an out-of-state contractor employing nonunion labor and paying them substandard wages. But many participants also opposed Wal-Mart’s hiring practices and the corporation’s effect on the surrounding community.

“I’m part of this community,” said retired autoworker and area resident Silvester Nathaniel. “We believe in unions, decent wages and benefits, and no takeaways.” Nathaniel added, “Our public officials need to be open with the community. People need decent wages. They’re putting this Wal-Mart store in the poorest area of Oakland and they don’t address these issues.”

“As an African American person in the community, I see Wal-Mart putting up a false image of what’s going to happen,” said Joyce Harris. The nearby shopping street, International Blvd., “was destitute for a long time,” she added. “Now businesses are coming in. Putting a Wal-Mart here threatens those very important local developments. ‘Mom and Pop’ can’t compete with this.”