DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEWs of Store Wars; Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, The Age of Wal-Mart

 

Title:  Store Wars

Release Date:  2001

Nationality and Language: USA, English

Running time: about 59 Minutes

MPAA Rating:  G

Distributor and Production Company:  PBS

Director; Writer: Micha Peled, Ken Schneider

Producer:

Cast:  

Technical:  video and DVD

Relevance to doaskdotell site:  efficiency and economy of scale in free markets, effect on traditional values

Review: This was broadcast on PBS and shown at film festivals in many cities, as at the Oak Street Cinema in Minneapolis.

  When Wal-Mart wants to build a superstore near the I-95 town of Ashland, Va. (12 miles north of Richmond), well, all breaks loose.

   The film documents the debate over whether a big retail business will destroy established family businesses in the area.  Foes the area need another Wal-Mart when there is another one ten miles away?  Will the store add jobs or cause them to be lost?  A mayor’s political career would come to an end over this.

   I have passed Ashland many times when living in Virginia myself, but I don’t recall the trains running in the downtown street.

 

There is more along these lines at http://www.doaskdotell.com/solid.htm

See Liza Featherstone, “Down and Out in Discount America,” The Nation, Jan 3, 2004, an article about Wal-Mart in which she explains how companies have used consumerism as an excuse to drive down wages and maintain a low-income class that supports this kind of retail business model. 

 

Two contrasting Wal-Mart documentaries will be released on November 15, 2005. One will be Robert Greenwald's  Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, and the other will be the rebuttal Why Wal-Mart Works: And Why That Drives Some People C-r-a-z-y, from brothers Ron and Robert Galloway. (From IMDB: “The two told Daily Variety that Wal-Mart did not provide financing for their $85,000 film and helped them only by giving them access to stores and personnel.”) CNN (Lou Dobbs) interviewed Mr. Greenwald on Nov. 25. Greenwald related a manager who directs Wal-Mart employees to get state aid in California. A Wal-Mart executive used in the film, Lee Scott, declined to be interviewed on CNN.

 

CNN NewsNight showed previews from both films on Nov. 2, 2005. The con film shows spectacular footage of other countries (especially China) were Wal-Mart goods are made with cheap labor. It is shown as anti-union. Wal-Mart is not as of this time planning to carry DVDs of either film. CNN interviewed Calloway (by Lou Dobbs) on Nov. 25, 2005 and discussed Wal-Mart operations in China. 

 

CNN also discussed employee health insurance and Wal-Mart’s leaked memo to hire “healthy” employees. There is an issue of corporate employees getting health care from publicly subsidized operations.

 

Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price (2005, Brave New Films, dir. Robert Greenwald). We probably know what the arguments are against mega-corporations that can drive local businesses out with imports, and the profit pressures that would lead a company to skimp on benefits and health insurance (to the point that some employees use Medicaid or Medical). That would leave the retailer as mooching off of the taxpayers ($1.577 billion in 2004). There are also very disturbing complaints of store managers coercing associates to work “off the clock,” (“forced low-balling”) a practice that management denies. There are allegations that they hire illegal aliens. There are allegations of gender and racial discrimination in promotions (“two out of two ain’t bad”). And it’s awfully easy to the company to adjust its spin, as it is for workers to do so. (At one point an executive says he shared a hotel room with another executive to save $200.) We’ve all seen these arguments presented in one-sided ways. Wal-Mart has gotten many communities to give it tax subsidies, which could be used by communities for more teachers or other services. There are concerns about Wal-Mart’s environmental practices, as in Belmont, NC; read the blog at http://www.catawbariverkeeper.org/wal-mart  The film maintains that the Walton company built a survival bunker after the 9/11 attacks “in case of an apocalypse” or purification. There are reports of poor security in parking lots for customers, where there have been carjackings and sexual assaults.

 

The segment about labor in China (for cheap imports) is harrowing. Workers are paid $3 per day, and are charged rent for tenement dorms whether they live there or not; they are essentially indentured servants, almost like slaves. A retail toy that cost $0.18 in China to make is sold for $14.96. There is a similar segment for Bangladesh. 

 

You certainly can see how hyper-individualism can spin out of control and become deceptive.

 

The workers (“associates”) are, of course, the people who did not compete well as individuals – and we can say that might stem from the backgrounds that they were born into. That is why we get back to debates about sharing burdens equitably.

 

There are some Wal-Mart commercials, and I would personally hate to have to speak publicly for this company’s position (and that probably holds true for many companies.)

 

Globalization works in many ways. In some cases, individuals can invent their own businesses and become successful with free entry and little accountability, and this raises its own set of obscure issues. 

 

See also Barry C. Lynn, “Breaking the Chain: The anti-trust case against Wal-Mart,” Harpers, July 2006, p. 29, which argues for breaking up the retailer with anti-trust laws.

 

Saturday Night Live (on NBC) did a 2006 satire of Wal-Mart with a fictitious store called “Sale Mart” in which the low prices are accounted for by workers being “careful” (no workman’s comp claims) and working 16 hour days, and not going to the doctor or having children. 

 

I’ll review the “other” film when the DVD is available.

 

The Age of Wal-Mart (2007, CNBC, 120 min) is a cable film documented the history of Wal-Mart and outlining the controversies over the company with some objectivity. Blogger entry.     

 

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Email me at Jboushka@aol.com