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Monday, Apr 5, 2004, 8:39 am

Wal-mart tries twisting democracy-gets rolled back

By A.L. Loy

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In an attempt to bypass zoning, environmental regulations and the local city council decision, Wal-mart took its fight to build a super center in Inglewood, California to the ballot box. On April 6, Inglewood voters voted down the measure by over 60 percent. The ballot initiative (measure 04-A) would have handed over land to Wal-mart and exempted the development from local zoning, planning and environmental regulations.



Last fall the Inglewood city council blocked Wal-mart's proposed 60-acre development, citing environmental, traffic and labor concerns. Community organizations, churches and organized labor joined the council to condemn the plan. Wal-mart is notorious for its anti-union policies, the destruction of local business that follows new stores, lack of a living wage, and employee abuse and discrimination.



Wal-mart misrepresented the Inglewood city council as not representative of community interests. The council, which represents a community that is about half Latino and half African-American, allied with community organizations, church groups and organized labor in blocking Wal-mart's planned development. Only one council member, the mayor, thought the development was a good idea. Wal-marts's representative for the initiative, Peter Kanelos, felt that "Organized labor is attempting to bully Wal-Mart and its customers."



Other opponents to the measure include Coalition for a Better Inglewood, and the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy.



Wal-mart got the 10,000 signatures needed to get the measure on the ballot. Opponents accuse Wal-Mart of using paid signature gathers, making more than the average Wal-mart employee, to get the initiative on the ballot. Wal-mart spent over $1 million trying to get the measure passed. Residents also complain that the chain giant misrepresented them in an attempt to pass the initiative.



Now that the world?s largest retailer has been trumped at the polls, it is unclear if Wal-mart will continue to fight to get into Inglewood or just move onto other L.A. suburbs.



Wal-mart continues to face increasing opposition across the country from communities rewriting zoning codes to limit the size of superstores and require chain stores to allow union organizing.



In March, the Chicago City Council, normally a timid rubber stamp of Mayor Daley, voted to delay the zoning variances of two proposed Wal-mart stores in Chicago. City council members, unions and community organizers are demanding that the chain store pay a living wage and not prevent unions from organizing in stores.

A.L. Loy is assistant publisher at In These Times.

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