Thursday, December 01, 2005

Paranoia or Social Criticism? Robert Greenwald's Anti-Wal-Mart Documentary

Just out on DVD and recently shown on the MU campus, the new anti-Wal-Mart documentary by left-wing filmmaker Robert Greenwald is regarded by the company and much of the media as essentially a conspiracy theory. Students are invited to see the film and give their impressions here for a bit of extra credit (up to 5% added to your mid-term grade.) Melissa Boerema starts us off below. Others should post their thoughts as comments on this post.

On November 16, 2005 the College Democrat Association presented the video Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, which was designed to show the audience the hypocritical nature of and the conspiracy behind the Wal-Mart chain. The video first presents the Hunter family in Middlefield, Ohio and their family owned business H & H Hardware Inc., which is forced out of business when a new Wal-Mart store comes to their town. In addition to closing the Hunter family business, the new Wal-Mart takes away numerous jobs in Middlefield leaving many families homeless and jobless, and it also knocks the value of various independent buildings down. These occurrences, found in the town of Middlefield, are notably inconsistent with the Wal-Mart commercials broadcasted to the American public everyday, which assert that Wal-Mart stores bring hundreds of jobs to every city that they are built in. After discussing the loss of jobs, the video next addressed the issues of employee wages and insurance. According to numerous present and past Wal-Mart employees, the wages are not large enough to pay their bills because each paycheck goes right back to Wal-Mart for things like insurance and groceries. These employees also assert that the insurance offered by Wal-Mart is too costly, and that Wal-Mart uses the system by encouraging its employees to join Medicaid, welfare, and state health care. These issues, just like the loss of jobs, are contradictory because Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart, held the belief that working people should not have to worry about being sick or having sick family members, which is not the case for current Wal-Mart employees. Next, the video discussed the notion that Wal-Mart is anti-union because it fires people if they are conspiring to found a union, and because it teaches managers how to profile employees that might form a union. After discussing the union profiling, the video then introduces Wal-Mart’s history of discrimination against race and gender, and the various lawsuits brought up by past employees. The video also goes on to state that Wal-Mart believes that women are useless and will not be able to advance in the company, no matter their qualifications. Lastly, the video discussed Wal-Mart’s inability to follow environmental waste guidelines, sweat-shop like labor in China, Bangladesh, & Honduras, the number of crimes in Wal-Mart parking lots (which the makers of the video believe could have all been prevented with additional security cameras), and how towns like Inglewood, California and Chandler, Arizona stopped the addition of a Wal-Mart store in their towns.

After carefully examining the arguments presented by the Wal-Mart video, I find that the video was presented in a very incomplete way and could be true for almost any big corporation in the world. I feel that the makers of the video needed to compare Wal-Mart to other big corporations, in order to show the viewer that this conspiracy and contradictory nature is unique only to Wal-Mart. I also believe that the video only used employees that supported the video's cause, leaving the video extremely biased and opinionated.

Melissa Boerema