In the largest-ever protest against Walmart in U.S. history, thousands in Los Angeles demanded the world’s largest private employer start respecting its workers and communities or stay out of L.A. Union workers from every industry marched alongside Walmart and warehouse workers, Chinatown residents, community and civil rights groups, faith leaders and activists, and our sisters and brothers from the San Diego, Orange, South Bay and San Francisco labor councils who rode in on buses to stand up to Walmart and stop the “Walmartization” of L.A. jobs.
The Teamsters trucks and Horsemen motorcycle club led the march from the Los Angeles State Historic Park (the Cornfield) through the streets of Chinatown. Walmart workers and Chinatown residents led the colorful and long march behind the massive banner: “Walmart = Poverty.” Thousands carried signs: “Walmart: How the 1% Hurts the 99%.”
A rally was held underneath the Chinese dragons at the entrance into Chinatown at Broadway and Cesar Chavez Blvd. Grammy winners, singer-songwriters and members of the Professional Musicians Local 47 Tom Morello and Ben Harper gave rousing performances in support of efforts to stop Walmart from invading Los Angeles.
“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.” Ben Harper showed up between touring gigs to play “We Can’t End this Way.” Harper, a downtown Los Angeles resident, spoke about how Walmart would negatively affect his own community.
Civil rights leader, co-founder of the United Farm Workers and 2012 recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom Dolores Huerta, U.S. Congresswoman Judy Chu, United Food and Commercial Workers President Joe Hansen, UNITE HERE President John Wilhelm , Teamsters Joint Council 42 President Randy Cammack, ILWU Local 13 Vice President Bobby Olvera and L.A. Labor’s Maria Elena Durazo praised courageous Walmart and warehouse workers who are organizing for good jobs and a voice at Walmart. They also called on Walmart to become a responsible employer to help rebuild America.
“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.
“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.
Walmart and warehouse workers filled the stage. “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.”
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.”
Brick Wall-ton, ‘nephew of Sam Walton,’ The Billionaires and Phoebe Bridgers also performed. Other speakers included California Labor Federation President Art Pulaski, SEIU-USWW President Mike Garcia, leader of the Orange County Labor Council Tefari Gebre and Pastor Donald Wilson of the Black Community, Clergy and Labor Alliance.
Leading up to the march in Los Angeles, Grammy winner Steve Earle made a video in Nashville urging Angelenos to march against Walmart in Chinatown. No Age headlined a benefit show for Chinatown groups organizing to stop Walmart along with other local LA bands and djs. As well, following L.A. Labor’s letter calling on area elected officials to refuse Walmart political contributions, 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.
Walmart has an aggressive new growth strategy to open hundreds of small scale stores in Los Angeles and major cities across the U.S., including L.A.’s historic Chinatown neighborhood. Walmart has a track record of providing poverty-level jobs with no benefits, forcing its employees to rely on billions of dollars in government assistance for health care and food, destroying local businesses and driving down wages in communities.