INGLEWOOD, Calif. (FinalCall.com) – Emboldened voters sent discount conglomerate Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. packing Mar. 30 when over 60 percent of them shut down a measure that would have allowed the retailer to build a super-shopping center in their community.
The defeat came at the hands of a coalition of residents, activists, religious leaders, politicians, and small-business owners who rallied, held town hall meetings, and voter education campaigns against a ballot box measure brought by Wal-Mart after Inglewood’s City Council denied its bid for the “Home Stretch at Hollywood Park” center. The center was slated for a 60-acre parcel of land, equivalent in size to 17 football fields.
“When you’re dealing with a multi-billion dollar corporation like Wal-Mart, they suffer and are on their deathbed for the same reason that America is on hers, and that is an inordinate amount of self interest and greed,” stated Minister Tony Muhammad, Nation of Islam Western Region Representative.
Despite Wal-Mart’s $244.5 billion in sales in fiscal year 2003, a 1.3 million employee pool, and more than 4,000 facilities worldwide, voters were not dissuaded by possible reprisals, and nearly 12,000 of 41,000 registered voters said no.
“I believe that they (Wal-Mart) felt that they didn’t have to go through city hall because it has Black city officials, and they didn’t even want to acknowledge them, thought they were insignificant, and they could do what they wanted to do. They were arrogant and that was the key factor why the residents rose up. Black people are tired of being abused, misused, mistreated and disrespected,” stated Aminah Muhammad, proprietor of Queen Aminah’s Clothing store, located on the corner of Market Street, a prime shopping strip in the city.
“We can do anything in unity. A small city like this, we beat a big conglomerate like Wal-Mart, because the people came together. This was a turn for the Black community, and people don’t realize the weight of it,” she said. She expressed gratitude to Min. Tony, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Reverend Jesse Jackson and others who helped to solidify the “no” vote.
Wal-Mart and its supporters, including Inglewood Mayor Roosevelt Dorn and long-time Black business champion Muhammad Nassardeen, CEO of Recycling Black Dollars, said that the venture represented economic growth and stability to a community starved for quality stores and jobs, especially for its youth. Both men emphatically denied charges that they “sold out” or received money from Wal-Mart in exchange of support for the measure.
In interviews leading up to ballot day, Mayor Dorn maintained that members of the Inglewood City Council thwarted the project because union-free Wal-Mart represented a threat to labor unions.
However, former City Council member and activist Danny Tabor stated that the issue was Wal-Mart’s audacity in attempting to sidestep the city’s policies for business development, tactics that would hurt, not help, residents. Furthermore, Mr. Tabor said, the wealth of jobs, including construction of the development, was not promised in writing to area residents.
Minister Tony said he believes that the push for Wal-Mart has hurt the men’s credibility in one sense, but in another, people should not pass judgment on them. He said that an investigation should be done to see if there was a pay-off, and if so, why.
“Everybody deserves the right to go through the atonement process and if they did that, they should atone, before our people will no longer have a forgiving spirit. But I caution some of those who try to use their support of Wal-Mart to drive them out of office. They’re still our brothers, and White people sell us out every day, and we don’t drive them out,” he stated.
Although some opponents and residents admitted that the retailer would fill an employment void, they also charged that its entry into the city would crush small “mom and pop” businesses.
According to a May 2001 Public Broadcasting Station (PBS) study, over 150 stores nationwide have rejected “big box” store developments. And for good reason. In his Feb. 16 report, “Everyday Low Wages: The Hidden Prices We All Pay For Wal-Mart,” Representative George Miller, of the Democratic Staff of the Committee on Education and the Workforce, wrote that as the nation’s largest private sector employer, with an estimated 1.2 million employees, Wal-Mart is undercutting domestic and foreign labor standards with little public outcry from federal officials charged with protecting those standards.
The report noted Wal-Mart’s violations ranging from illegally firing workers who attempt to organize a union to unlawful surveillance, threats and intimidation: “whether the issue is basic organizing rights of workers, or wages, or health benefits, or working conditions, or trade policy, Wal-Mart has come to represent the lowest common denominator in the treatment of working people,” the report continued.
Disappointed but not deterred, Wal-Mart said it plans to forge ahead with plans of building 150 new stores and super-centers in cities nationwide.