Tom Morello of ‘Rage’ leads Wal-Mart protest


LOS ANGELES–Hundreds of people marched Saturday through the streets of Chinatown in Los Angeles to protest against Wal-Mart’s plans to open a store in the neighborhood.

The colorful event included lion dancers, bicyclists and a rally under Chinatown’s dragon gates, headlined by Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello.

Many said they came to protest against the proposed store while others said they came to decry what they said were Wal-Mart’s low wages and union-busting attempts.

“This historic neighborhood will be utterly gutted if Wal-Mart comes here,” Morello told The Associated Press about the prospects of the retail giant driving smaller stores in Chinatown out of business.

“It’s Wal-Mart’s global policy of sweatshop labor and poverty level wages that we don’t need in LA,” he said.

Wal-Mart began construction this week with plans to open the store next year.

The proposed store is not a Walmart Supercenter but what the company calls a “neighborhood market,” one that is about a fifth the size of a supercenter and typically carries groceries, fresh produce, pharmaceuticals, deli foods, stationery and dry goods.

Company officials selected the location after determining the Chinatown neighborhood was among those underserved when it comes to providing fresh food, Wal-Mart said.

Spokesman Steven Restivo said more than 170,000 people were expected to shop at a Walmart store in Los Angeles County on Saturday.

“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,” Restivo said. “We remain committed to serving customers here and look forward to soon opening new Walmart Neighborhood Market stores in Panorama City, Altadena and downtown Los Angeles.”

Restivo noted last month that the Chinatown store is planned for a building that has been vacant for nearly two decades and was previously zoned for a grocery store.

The City Council attempted to block the Wal-Mart’s opening when it adopted a moratorium earlier this year on opening large stores in the downtown area, but the company got around that by pulling its permits the day before the moratorium took effect.

Labor officials and others have appealed that move, and a hearing on the issue is expected later this summer.

The Chinatown Chamber of Commerce supports the project, saying it will bring scores of permanent jobs to the area and might also drive traffic to surrounding businesses.

Several owners of those businesses have expressed concerns, however, that it will take away customers.

Los Angeles County Federation of Labor spokeswoman Caroline O’Connor said the jobs Wal-Mart will bring will be low-paying and won’t offer health insurance. She also disputed the company’s contention that a smaller Wal-Mart won’t have a negative impact on the community.

“It’s the same old Wal-Mart, same low wages, same workers relying on public assistance to get health insurance,” she said.