Wal-Mart: The high cost of low price (documentary)

Wal-Mart: The high cost of low price (documentary)

Wal-Mart has become one of America’s most successful retail chains by offering everyday goods at low prices for working families. But just how is Wal-Mart able to charge less than many of their rivals, and what has their success done for their employees? Documentary filmmaker Robert Greenwald takes a look inside the discount retailer’s empire in Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, and discovers a company short on scruples and long on shabby treatment of the people who work for them.

Hard-hitting documentary looking at the business practices of American retail giant Wal Mart. Interviewing current and former employees, director Robert Greenwald assembles evidence that demonstrates the ways in which the company is forcing small businesses to close, as well as attacking its restrictive, anti-union employment policies.

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working class s...
Oct 31 2012 20:01


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Nov 1 2012 19:25

I haven't actually had chance to watch this, so apologies if I'm missing the point of the doc, or just saying the same thing as the film does, but my feelings on Wal-Mart is that to carry out a successful campaign, it had to have been done at least a decade ago. It's just too big and the way it's structured means that if any one part of Wal-Mart organises, they can just chop that branch off. There was a store in Quebec which unionised a few years back, went through the arduous process of getting official union recognition status, the courts mandated that the workers had the right to union recognition, and Wal-Mart immediately closed the store. As good as it was to see the Wal-Mart workers in the US on strike, and there are rumours of wildcatting on Black Friday (day after Thanksgiving, busiest shopping day of year,) it's such powerful and rich corporation that it can pretty much take any amount of disruption. I'm not too clued in on the structure of Wal-Mart as such, but I think that the stores, warehousing, distribution etc are all separate entities, making effective large scale organising almost impossible. I hate to be even more pessimistic than usual, but I think any ship that may have been has sailed in relation to the place.
Something that I don't think that the Boycott Wal-Mart campaign is particularly sensitive to though, is that some people can't actually boycott Wal-Mart. It's OK if you live in a large urban area, you're more likely to have a choice where to shop, but if you're in a small town or even out in the burbs Wal-Mart might be your only practical choice. It really is the cheapest place to buy anything, especially now they've gone into the groceries market, and on a low income feeding and clothing your family trumps ethics every time. I don't think that consumer boycotts are especially effective anyway, there's been one against Nestle for nearly four decades and it's hardly brought them to their knees.
I hate to be all doom and gloom, I loathe the place - my eldest had a part-time job there (which more or less turned out to be a full-time job because of the way they scheduled the hours, on top of school) and they are every much as bad as an employer as their reputation suggests. So, no inspirational suggestions here, workers may be able to achieve some local improvements here and there but on a larger scale, I don't think that Wal-Mart is a winnable battle.

Nov 1 2012 19:37

With Wal-Mart you have to hit them where it hurts, which is their distribution network. Typically Wal-Mart will first build a distribution centre somewhere strategically located in order to serve several Wal-Marts (the DC for Montreal stores is somewhere in Ontario close to the Qubecoi border). If the DC is shut down or blockaded, lots of Wal-Mart stores would be affected since Wal-Mart stores typically get deliveries every two days. Empty shelves matters a lot. In the logistics literature they stress that availability of an item is paramount; consumers aren't as faithful as they used to be. If they can't find what they want in a store they will go somewhere else; if they can't find the exact commodity they want, they will likely just buy a substitute. The beast can be slain; we just have to figure out how to do it as the old methods don't work anymore.

Nov 1 2012 20:03

Hope you're right, they're nasty bastards that seem to spread like scabies.

Nov 1 2012 20:48

I hope so too; I am just speculating, though if you look at similar just-in-time systems, blocking strategic nodes can bring down entire supply chains. Take this example from Windsor:

CBC wrote:
The unexpected strike by the nearly 200 CAW workers at the auto parts supplier east of Windsor was predicted to affect 30,000 others working in the auto industry Monday, according to union officials.


Nov 1 2012 21:45

This is all hypothetical, because I have no idea what the situation is in Wal-Mart locally atm, but given the global scale of the monster, bringing down one supply chain, what effect it would have? Assuming the Ontario DC was disrupted and Mtl stores went empty, what would Wal-Mart's response be? Quebec's not a big market, maybe 9 million people, nothing compared to their global reach - they've just got into India, they're in China, they've been implicated in all kinds of corruption scandals in Mexico. They could easily close down operations here without taking much of a hit, safe in the knowledge that they can come back at a later date, because they never get any problems with planning permission.
Anyway, that's just me being morose. I might be more cheerful if it stops bloody raining sad It'll be interesting to see what happens in the US on Black Friday and there seemed to be a fair amount of public support for the US Wal-Mart workers in California, which then spread to other states.

Gregory A. Butler
Nov 2 2012 03:23

The point of striking Walmart's warehouse network is to 1) force them to recognize a union/unions and sign a union contract/s for their warehouses and 2) to use that as leverage to force them to recognize a union/unions and sign a union contract/s for their stores.

That's the method the International Brotherhood of Teamsters used in the supermarket industry in the US in the 1930s to force those stores to recognize and sign a contract with the Teamsters and the Retail Clerks International Association and the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen (two unions that subsequently merged into the United Food and Commercial Workers) in their stores.

However that strategy only works if it's coordinated on a nationwide basis.

If it is,it's basically the only possible way to unionize Walmart and if the unions can pull it off, it would be a huge victory for American labor.

Nov 22 2012 14:22

an interesting short film on the recent warehouse workers strike in Chicago, and how they were supported by the teachers who were also striking at the same time. while there is the usual reformist/non-radical stuff ('we just want our fair share', 'i come here with the will to work' etc.), there are positive moments where it isn't just about working conditions but also general worsening life conditions, their knowledge of their power and position within the global supply chain, as well as the cross-sector solidarity with the striking teachers

jef costello
Nov 22 2012 19:03
Khawaga wrote:
I hope so too; I am just speculating, though if you look at similar just-in-time systems, blocking strategic nodes can bring down entire supply chains. Take this example from Windsor:

I think your right, supermarkets in the UK are extremely dependent on just in time practises. When I was working in one ten years ago they were already vulnerable in that sense (one or two days without deliveries and the gaps could not be filled.) And most stores have been expanded by cutting warehouse space since then. To be honest it makes the stores vulnerable as well as the supply centres. If you could turn away deliveries then that would paralyse the store. Wouldn't be easy though.I think the references to the 30s are a good reminder that we can win, I mena that was a time when union organisers were fairly regularly murdered and attacked. It does seem like we're facing insurmountable odds but it's been done in the past.

ronnie smith
Jan 8 2014 13:09

Do Wall-Mart's business practices rise or lower our standard of living ?

ronnie smith
Jan 8 2014 13:14

Is Wall-Mart's business strategy fair and equitable to all to all parties ? why or why not.

Jan 10 2014 14:42

Those are rather uninteresting questions that can only be answered reductively or with a thesis length argument.