Friday, October 27, 2006

Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price (2005)

Not Rated, 95 minutes

I have a family member who will remain nameless that can’t wait for the long-delayed Wal-Mart construction project to begin in my home town. I live in a town of 4,000. We have a K-Mart, McDonalds, Big Boy, CVS Pharmacy, and a smattering of smaller retail entities like liquor stores and video rental places. Wal-Mart wants to install itself where three houses currently reside, near the corner of a long sleepy road and another long sleepy road. Less than a mile down from this intersection are the high school and middle school. Long story short, they’d probably have to expand the roads there to four lanes. All because some people don’t want to drive 10 minutes to Meijer, or about 20 to a Wal-Mart, or are just stingy about using the K-Mart down the road.

Luckily, the end of this movie depicts grass roots campaigns that have removed Wal-Mart from building in their town. This is a documentary detailing all the things wrong with Wal-Mart. Unlike the droll books I’ve reviewed as of late, and unlike most of the movies we think of when the word “documentary” is spoken, this movie takes the experiences of former employees and lets their experiences tell the tale; from current “associates” to the people behind the scenes at the individual stores. If it were one of those sociology books, they’d have given me about a hundred statistics to explain that Wal-Mart’s workers are making really low wages, and that the cost of production versus profit is ridiculous.

This movie instead gives you former Wal-Mart managers and their anecdotes about having to lie for the corporate machine. For example, going in to the computer system and moving two hours of overtime to the next week’s paycheck so it’s no longer the accelerated wage. The film shows you people who were fired for alleged union conspiring. Depicts an organization that spends $30,000 on security cameras in one store to catch said conspiring, that won’t spend a dime on cameras to protect people in their parking lots. A store owned by a family worth over $100 billion, who gave just $6,000 to a worker emergency fund. This fund is meant to relieve workers in case of natural disaster and the like. Employees were given the chance to “donate” to this fund from their paycheck, which they did to the tune of $5 million. Again, with just statistics, it’s damning enough, but to show how the people themselves are affected by such practices packs a bigger punch than a number alone.

Folks, if this doesn’t make you hate Wal-Mart, nothing will. It isn’t heavy handed. The stories make the case themselves. I don’t think it makes it low brow or opportunistic for the movie to use the human interest to grab you. It’s necessary. You can show Wal-Mart’s profits versus any other company’s and people would shrug. You show two family businesses go under practically overnight and you pique interest. If that Wal-Mart does get built, I hope somebody has the mind to burn this movie on as many discs as they can, and leave them through the parking lot. I know now they have no videotape evidence in those lots to catch ‘em.


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