The May 2005 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

Someone's Sister: Homeless in the East Bay

A Young Mother Dreams of a Brighter Future

Legal Rights of Homeless People

Exposing Wal-Mart Empire

HUD Pulls a Disappearing Act

Devastating Cuts to Section 8

Civil Rights Gets on the Bus

UC Students Brutalized by Police

Activism for Economic Justice

Night of Humanity and Courage

Nonviolent Vigil for San Diego's Poorest

The Faithful Fools

Medical Pot in Santa Cruz

Poor Leonard's Almanack

Poetry of the Streets


February 2005






Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.


Exposing the Wal-Mart Empire

by Janny Castillo

Photo of Wal-Mart protesters by Janny Castillo

"Wal-Mart is more powerful than any retailer has ever been. It is in fact, so big and so furtively powerful as to have become an entirely different order of corporate being."
- Edward Fox, head of Southern Methodist University's J. C. Penny Center for Retailing Experience

"One of the greatest fortunes in the world (Wal-Mart) has been built on human misery and public subsidy."
- Assemblywoman Loni Hancock

Wanting to serve Oakland residents is a new Wal-Mart on Edgewater Drive on the West side of 880. Yet many Oakland residents, small business owners and others are not happy with the presence of the corporate giant. Residents are protesting Simeon Developers and the Port of Oakland for allowing Wal-Mart into the city.

The Oakland City Council and the Port of Oakland staff approved this project without consulting with community residents. To rectify that, a town hall meeting was held on Wednesday, March 23, at ILWU Local 6 offices on Hegenberger. Just Cause, a local nonprofit that has organized many campaigns to protect renter's rights, organized the meeting. Just Cause is dedicated to fighting the good fight and speaking out against the deplorable practices of the world's largest retailer.

Wal-Mart is the largest private U.S. employer, with 1.4 million workers. Last year, its sales exceeded $256 billion. The company has close to 1500 stores in the United States, with 138 stores in California.

The town hall participants' message was clear: "Oakland does not want Wal-Mart!"

Why are Oakland residents so mad? Street Spirit researched the good and the bad of the Wal-Mart Empire and here are some of the facts:

Wal-Mart donations

In January 2005, Wal-Mart and Sam's Club produced and donated 42 truckloads of water to 10 military installations in the United States for personnel who were being deployed to Iraq and other international locations.

Wal-Mart and Sam's Club Foundation recently presented a $1 million matching gift to the Veterans of Foreign Wars Foundation. In December 2004, Wal-Mart contributed a record donation of $150,000 to the Paralyzed Veterans of America. Also, Wal-Mart gave more than $1 million to support organizations providing support to U.S. troop families.

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. announced that for its fiscal year ending January 2005, cash donations from its stores exceeded a record $170 million. In 2004, Wal-Mart and Sam's Club Foundation matched $61 million in grants for organizations in 3,500 communities.

In 2004, 3,500 teachers and schools were honored through the Wal-Mart Teacher of the Year Program. Wal-Mart also gave $4 million to schools.

In 2004, Wal-Mart and Sam's Club Foundation provided $3.9 million in direct support to the Children's Miracle Network.

As a direct result of Wal-Mart's Missing Children Boards and a partnership with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 6,500 missing children had their pictures posted at Wal-Mart stores. Last year alone, 120 children were recovered.

Questionable business ethics

Out of the 10 richest people in the world, five are Waltons - the rich ruling family of the Wal-Mart Empire. Their estimated worth is $20 billion each.

In June 2004, a federal judge certified a gender discrimination class-action lawsuit against Wal-Mart on behalf of 1.5 million women, potentially the largest employment discrimination case in history. Wal-Mart was accused, among other things, of unfair promotion and unequal payment practices.

Wal-Mart's CD Standards are changing - or censoring - pop music, according to the New York Times. Wal-Mart is the biggest music retailer in the country. "Because of Wal-Mart's clout," Neil Strauss wrote in the New York Times, "record labels and bands will design different covers and booklets, omit songs from their albums, electronically mask objectionable words and even change lyrics in order to gain a place on Wal-Mart's shelves."

Wal-Mart demands that its suppliers cut wholesale costs on an annual basis. Small businesses can't compete. According to the Los Angeles Times, "Wal-Mart searches for the cheapest goods and wipes out competition by expanding the products at wholesale discount prices."

Of Wal-Mart's 6,000 global suppliers, experts estimate that as many as 80 percent are based in China. Schenzhen, China, where Wal-Mart has a global procurement center, is on the verge of becoming the third busiest port in the world.

Unforgivable injustices

Wal-Mart's business practices harm both its own employees, as well as small and community-based businesses. The Wal-Mart corporate chain puts small mom-and-pop stores out of business.

At the same time, Wal-Mart is a leader in cutting worker's wages, benefits and hours. This forces competitors, like Safeway, Albertson's, Longs Drugs, and others, to do the same.
Wal-Mart pays its workers cheap wages, promotes part-time work, hires undocumented workers, and provides little or no healthcare. No Wal-Mart in the country has a union. Let's say that again: No Wal-Mart in the country has a union.

The low wages of Wal-Mart employees result in additional public expenses, including increased costs for free and reduced lunches, Section 9 Housing assistance and added health care costs. In California alone, Wal-Mart workers who rely on public assistance programs cost the taxpayers an estimated $86 million annually.

Wal-Mart engages in unfair labor practices. A class action suit has been filed involving 200,000-plus employees who are accusing Wal-Mart of consistently not providing breaks and lunches. There have been instances of diabetics fainting on the job from lack of food and much worse.

Wal-Mart is helping to accelerate the loss of American jobs to low-wage countries such as China. It has doubled imports from China in the past five years to nearly 10 percent of all Chinese exports to the United States.

Federal agents raided 60 Wal-Mart stores in 2003 in the largest immigration raid in years. Wal-Mart officials said all workers arrested were employed by private companies hired to clean the stores. They claimed they did not know they were employing illegal aliens.

Fighting a corporate giant

On April 12, Just Cause organizers and supporters flooded Simeon Commercial Properties office in San Francisco. They insisted on speaking with Rajiv Parick, the Vice President of Retail Development, responsible for the Wal-Mart/Metro-Port deal in East Oakland. The group chanted loudly for a long while until Mr. Parick agreed to meet with them.

At one point, as the delegation was meeting with Parick, the larger group downstairs was being challenged by building security. Several building employees were verbally and physically threatening but the group's response was disciplined, respectful and strong.

Just Cause reported on the meeting: "We told him (Parick) our demands to have Simeon mitigate negative impact of this development on working people in East Oakland by supporting job training, scholarships and health services."

As expected, Parick denied that Simeon was responsible and said that organizers should speak directly with Wal-Mart. When pressed by the delegation, he made a commitment to follow up with his CEO and get back to the organizers in a week.

Just Cause considered the visit a highly effective action. "Most importantly, Simeon got a good taste of the pressure and power of Oakland's working people!"

So as little smiley faces dance across your television promising low prices, pause and think for just a moment. Think of who is paying high prices to enrich the Wal-Mart Empire. It could very well be our community.

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