Apparently Walmart, the country’s largest — and, some say, stingiest — private employer thought its troubles at the new Chinatown grocery center were over once it opened for business in September. That, however, was corporate wishful thinking in serious need of a cleanup in aisle three. Today, November 7, the community coalition that opposed Walmart’s original entry into the historic neighborhood will be demonstrating against the mega-chain’s continued abuse of its low-paid employees. The event will culminate with the arrest of 100 men and women in front of the store.
Their immediate goal is to draw attention to Walmart’s strategy of maximizing profits by scheduling its workers for the minimum number of hours possible and by encouraging them to apply for food stamps and other tax-funded programs to supplement their meager paychecks. (Not to mention firing dissident workers.) But organizers also hope to build momentum for nationwide protests against Walmart scheduled to take place in three weeks.
As many shoppers know by now from personal experience in the consumer mosh pit known as Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving is the retail industry’s busiest day of its biggest sales season. Last year hundreds of protesters, many of them Walmart workers, were arrested after taking part in acts of civil disobedience. This year the heat will be turned up again on Walmart during Black Friday.
For Betty Madden, a retired Hollywood costume designer, the decision to get arrested will be a very personal moment – and a little unnerving.
“It’s a nasty prospect,” she says. “I’m a country girl at heart and being locked in a room is very scary. But this is bigger than me and I have to do it.”
Madden, who remains active in her union’s organizing and education efforts, was more than a little stressed out the first time she faced arrest, during a demonstration supporting hotel employees on Century Boulevard near Los Angeles International Airport, but says making eye contact with the hospitality workers gave her the strength she needed.
“It just seemed like they were the invisible people – the No-See-Um People. They work so hard and get so little.”
Madden says the plight of Walmart workers motivates her in the same way.
“Walmart has been a real issue for me for 30 years,” she says, adding that recent workplace fires and a building collapse at the sites of Walmart clothing contractors in Bangladesh have increased her anger at the company. “To see factory fires when there’s no need to have garment fires – is it worth someone dying so we can buy Walmart shorts?”
Even with one arrest under her belt, Madden is a little nervous at what lies ahead today.
“Making eye contact will get me through it,” she says. “The whole costume area in the motion picture industry will be represented by my arrest. I have the full support of 3,500 costumers and designers.”
When: Thursday (today), November 7, 5 p.m.
Where: Chinatown Walmart, intersection of Cesar Chavez & Grand avenues, Los Angeles.
Info: (213) 381-5611 x136 or (213) 389-4963.