First, by way of thanks. I would like to thank everyone on the Newbury Democratic Town Committee for organizing and then actually pulling off a stellar and important event like this right in my own backyard.
I was even let in, as a member of the fourth estate, to a private reception held before the screening at the lovely home of Chuck Christensen and Beth Welch with the greatest food I have ever had at one of these things. The reception was attended by concerned local citizens, active grassroots Dems in the area, Gov. and Mrs. Dukakis and Congressman and Mrs. John Tierney (D-MA).
Pretty sweet. Especially the food. I know the value of a delicious buffet.
Special thanks go out to Jeff Snow the chair of the documentary film series sub-committee of the NDTC for manning the equipment and missing most of the reception and above all the food in order to give us a good show. More than 100 people came out to see what this Wal-Mart movie was all about and hear what The Duke had to say after the show in an open Q & A. I was originally invited to attend by LuAnn Kuder, Committee Chair, and when she didn’t know what in God’s name a guerrilla vlogger is she handed me off to Nancy Weinberg, a NTDC member and also a member of the documentary film committee. Nancy is tech savvy and a blogger. She was the manager/coordinator for the event and I thank her so much for her support and answers in helping me get this vlog written. She also urged me to attend the pre-show reception and for that I am most grateful. Because the food was awesome. Did I mention that at all? Because I know what’s important in life.
and now for our regularly scheduled vlog…
And so it goes as Robert Greenwald enters the world of the smiley face to get the real story behind those always low prices in his groundbreaking and important documentary Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price. Every Wal-Mart shopper and every citizen of this country interested in either social justice, fair business practices, government accountability or the future of this nation should see this movie. Yes that means you too.
The trailer from Brave New Films can be seen here:
Mr. Greenwald is an American patriot whose business it is to expose right-wing hypocrites and a variety of other scams in this country and I bet business is good these days.
His credits include, among others:
- Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism (2004)
- Uncovered: The Whole Truth About the Iraq War (2003)
- Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election (2002)
All are available on DVD, but you won’t find the Wal-Mart movie on the shelves at Wal-Mart, naturally. It’s only 12.95 so consider buying it as a gift and passing it around. Just prepare yourself and others. Although the movie ends on a very up note, it’s hard to watch and accept that this is happening all over this country and world today with anyone saying too much.
The reviews are in for the Wal-Mart movie.
November 4, 2005
Robert Greenwald’s “Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price” is not “Fahrenheit 9/11.” There are no goofy takeoffs of old television series. You won’t see H. Lee Scott Jr., the chief executive of Wal-Mart, the largest retailer on the planet, practicing his golf swing or making revealing comments on camera…
“The High Cost of Low Price” makes its case with breathtaking force. Mr. Scott of Wal-Mart declined to speak on camera, Mr. Greenwald says. The company is worried enough about this film and growing opposition elsewhere that it has hired high-powered former presidential advisers and set up a public relations “war room” to deflect and respond to criticism.
Ebert & Roeper: Two Thumbs Up!
There is a very intelligent discussion in this review not about the film, but about Wal-Mart itself.
Attention Wal-Mart shoppers: Roeper lays the blame for many of the negative effects that the movie documents squarely on your shoulders.
And he’s right, at least partially. If we didn’t shop there then this company would not have the economic power of Standard Oil, but that is not the whole story. Lack of accountability in our business and government systems completes the enabling picture. It’s wholly true that customers who choose to shop at Wal-Mart support their power, but something that is made clear in this film is that Wal-Mart costs the tax-payers of this country in excess of about 2.5 Billion per year. That means your tax dollars go directly to the bottom line in Bentonville, Arkansas.
Those direct government subsidies come in two main forms. First, workers themselves are eligible for about 1.5 Billion in assistance through programs like Welfare, WIC, food stamps and section 8 housing. The movie provides direct testimony from many employees that either needed to get the money in order to survive or managers that state on the record that Wal-Mart policy is to aid and direct employees in applying for assistance. They hand out the qualification forms in the store.
Lee Scott, while CEO on April 5, 2005, said the following about the advantages of associates using Medicaid instead of company provided health care plans:
In some of our states, the public program may actually be a better value – with relatively high income limits to qualify, and low premiums.
This is not by accident; it’s part of the Wal-Mart business model to pad the bottom line in Bentonville. And it’s your money, our money.
Second, local government’s kick in our tax dollars to improve infrastructure when a box comes to town. If they don’t, then Wal-Mart builds the box right up to the city limits. The town gets all the problems but none of the sales tax revenue. The first ever national report on Wal-Mart subsidies documented at least $1 billion in subsidies from state and local governments, but no one knows for sure what the real number is. Source:wakeupwalmart.com
Okay, that’s enough about the movie for now. Let’s turn to what happened in Newbury, MA. last Saturday night. Chuck Christensen and Beth Welch hosted a private reception attended by both Gov. Dukakis and Rep. Tierney, Tierney spoke first to the crowd of sponsors of the event. LuAnn Kuder Newbury Democratic Town Committee Chair introduces him.
This clip starts with a great joke that Tierney and Dukakis share with all of us.
Governor, what an honor it is to have you here. I don’t mean to get nostalgic or anything here, but I wish… (crowd agrees)
What a difference this country would be in the direction we would be going in and you just look at the sorry state of affairs. I know you’re going over to see Wal-Mart and I know we should be talking about Wal-Mart so I should be talking about social justice and a range of issues… I had occasion to speak to the league of women voters at the state convention today and the asked to me talk about energy. That is an issue of social justice as well.
It really came into full swing lately … every time I meet a superintendent of schools or a town manager or whatever they say they’re getting killed by two things health care and energy costs and the squeeze is just wiping them out… There is no reason that we can’t resolve these issues… We need to start now, we need to start down that path and health care is the same way.
He defends the work that Congress is doing and focuses his remarks on S-CHIP.
Happily I can report in this vlog that the House overrode the veto yesterday. US Congressman John Tierney represents the sixth district of Massachusetts, “the fighting sixth!”, and as a member of the House Select Intelligence Committee he chairs the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs. He was recently on Washington Journal to discuss his hearings held a couple weeks back on Blackwater. You can view that at the C-SPAN website if you want. I saw parts of that and he was excellent. Thank God we got subpoena power back in the last mid-terms because without that the Blackwater hearings would never have happened in the public or at all. thanks to dcsohl for reading and pointing out that this was a false statement, this text was meant to appear in this diary as an ironic statement about the failure of a veto override of a wildly popular and vitally important program.
Thank you to Congressman and Mrs. Tierney for being so gracious to me at the event. I had never met them before, but I guess we’re going to be neighbors now. Let me know if you need any help moving in with Chuck and Beth guys. Great choice.
Now we turn to the remarks made by Gov. Dukakis to the grassroots in attendance that night.
I have a slightly broken camera so I failed to get the first few seconds here. The Governor apologized to us all directly for messing up the election of 1988. As we all know Dukakis faced King George I in that election. He admitted that he made mistakes and the responsibility for the defeat lies solely with him and his poor judgment in the general election: “It’s no one else’s fault.” Since all of us there that evening had the “sorry state of affairs” in our country in the forefront of our thoughts, in retrospect, I think we can all agree that if the father had never gotten in then the son would not be blighting our political system and the very soul of this country today. Thank you so very much for your honesty Governor.
This clip starts with a great joke too, it was a beautiful home that not only looked beautiful but felt close and intimate that night. So as Dukakis told us that we’re lucky in our state delegation someone shouted out, “I hope we get another Greek in there soon.” Dukakis replied, “she’s not Greek, but she’s Greek the way Kitty is Greek.” Then we cut to the chase as far as the central message that Dukakis delivered that evening.
If it hadn’t been for folks like you, that understood the importance of grassroots organizing we probably would have another Republican Governor.
I had only heard this story anecdotally before, but here it is now on tape. He talks about how Deval came to see him early on in the race. Deval asked him: how do I win? Dukakis told him: the grassroots. It’s the only way. You have to recruit and then make accountable to your campaign 2,157 precinct captains in Massachusetts, one for each precinct. They have to make “personal contact with every voting household.” And I think we can all agree that was sage advice. “She must have outspent him 3 to 1 and she tried to Willie Horton him. And it began working in case you have all forgotten.” But those early recruits to the Patrick campaign won the day when it came down to crunch time and we all know that Deval won by 21 percentage points. Good advice Governor.
Now, John, we didn’t do that in 1988. We had a great primary campaign then a consultant said, “oh you don’t do that in a final.” Folks we’ve got to organize every one of the 200,000 precincts in the United States of America… No one is going to tell me nationally that we can’t do what we did here in the Commonwealth last year. The DNC has five million contributors; that’s not a bad pool, John right, from which to recruit 200,000 precinct captains. I’m serious.
He talks about how some of the significant problems Congress faces today can be contributed to Bush who he described as a “hard right-wing ideologue,” and the disgrace of the Bush S-CHIP veto. Then he returns to address the grassroots Dems in attendance.
You are the heart and soul of this party. I don’t know what I’m going to say about Wal-Mart but I am a big Costco fan.
In fact, let me tell you that our kids threatened to do a Costco intervention on me last year.
Before the remarks I had the chance to speak to Dukakis about Costco and Wal-Mart. He said, paraphrase, “It’s a responsible alternative. They pay their people a decent wage. The CEO earns 350,000 dollars a year. They cover their people with health care and the prices are just as good. They also try to support local business whenever possible.” I also informed him that last year Costco announced the success of their new automatic 401K company matched retirement plan. Enrollment shot up from the teens to more than 80% under the new corporate guidelines. You might not become a cah-gillionaire working at a Costco but it’s a decent middle-class job where you can maintain some hope, dignity and security in your life.
But that begs the question: if Costco can do it then why can’t Wal-Mart?
I submit to readers: the answer is values. Plain and simple. Watching this movie will convince you. Buying or renting the DVD and talking about it with your co-workers, sharing it with your family and neighbors, especially Wal-Mart shoppers is the first step in reforming the company. We can reform them, but first we must start with awareness of the problem. When I attended a Wake-Up Wal-Mart bus tour appearance last year in Pittsburgh to vlog the remarks given by John Edwards the focus of the campaign by the Wake-Up Wal-Mart labor advocacy group was health care. Time and time again the guys from Change to Win and Wake-Up Wal-Mart said that the company needs to be reformed from the outside. They will never change on their own, but as a retailer they are uniquely vulnerable to negative blowback from publ
ic opinion turning against them. They get a lot of bad press, deservedly so, but those shoppers still line up for always low prices. I can’t help but think that this would not be the case if those shoppers saw this movie.
Now we turn to the crowd reaction to the movie. I taped some quick interviews from people that had not seen the movie before this screening. Let’s see what they had to say.
This clip contains four interviews I did with five movie goers.
Allyson’s initial reaction was that is was shocking and she thinks others should see it. “It affects so many other people than I had thought. From the manufacturing of goods right down to people whose business have close because of it. It covers a broad spectrum of people.”
Allyson is a big proponent of buying locally and supporting good local businesses that form the backbone of any vibrant city or town. She spearheads the BuyLocal campaign here in my area: SupportNBPT.org, from their website:
What we believe –
- Smart growth and a strategic plan for careful future development to guide the city, not exclusive decision-making
- Supporting locally owned retail businesses, not chain stores and large corporations
- Advocating for local decision making, not reaction to absentee business interests
- Promoting open space over commercial sprawl
- Promoting community welfare over corporate welfare
- Historic preservation over demolition
Thank you for everything that you do Allyson because that downtown is the biggest asset my community has and without it we’re just another formerly great industrial mill town in the Northeast without any mills. Your work increases the value of my home and the very quality of life I enjoy as a Newburyport resident. Because they have great food and shops down there and I can walk down have a meal and couple of drinks then walk home without worrying about driving or getting a designated driver. I know what’s important in life.
Charles was fairly knowledgeable about the unfair labor practices that Wal-Mart engages in on a regular basis. He is well read on the subject and brings up the Vlasic story that perfectly encapsulates and epitomizes the problems we face in our country today directly attributed to Wal-Mart’s values.
This is the story recounted by Charles from an article he read in The Nation. Wal-Mart regularly
strong arms negotiates price with their suppliers. Suppliers to Wal-Mart end up being just as vulnerable as the slave labor working in these box stores and around the world. Wal-Mart is the kind of customer a wholesaler can not lose. In the case of Vlasic, they had a bad year for cucumbers and their costs soared. Wal-Mart told them, “sorry not only can we not cut you a break for this year’s cost we want you to come in under last year’s price for this coming year.” Vlasic could not comply; they couldn’t eat the cost or borrow enough money until next year. Wal-Mart went with another supplier. Vlasic went out of business.
Charles Fishman, the author of The Wal-Mart Effect a national best seller about the market effects that Wal-Mart has on our economy and The Economist’s choice for Best Book of the Year for 2006, expands the story in his book to examine how Wal-Mart’s bulk items and intense downward pressure on wholesaler prices can end up running their own supplier out of business. Immense power in the hands of the truly unscrupulous can do that but just remember as a retailer it’s all our money that gives them their power.
And provided here as an aside is the story of the “Sock Guy,” coming to us from Frontline: Is Wal-Mart Good for America?, wherein a Wal-Mart supplier of socks states directly on camera that he was called into the offices in Bentonville, Arkansas and told point blank that either he figure out how to get the product made in China or they would drop him as a supplier and destroy his business. What choice did he have? What could he have reasonably done?
Dan is a very intelligent kid and he told me that he was happy to see that someone was reporting on what Wal-Mart is doing and what he sees as the economic blighting and devastation of Main Street in this area of the country today. He also asked a question during the Q & A which will be upcoming from me in the next few days. He highly recommends the film.
“I thought it was an accurate portrayal of what I’ve seen in towns all over New England. And it’s great to see that the truth is being reported.”
We’re trying to get the word out Dan. A lot of bloggers regularly keep up posting stories about Wal-Mart in the sphere. We’re trying just as hard as we can and I thank you so much for blowing a few hours on a Saturday when you probably had other fun things to do in order to come out and see the film. It’s starts with ordinary people like us connecting the dots and then demanding accountability at every level to bring a company this powerful into line with our values as Americans.
Pat and Mike
They “live together” and they spoke to me side by side. I like it when a couple can have a discussion like this without talking over one another. I never know until I shoot the tape. Thanks guys.
Mike’s first impression was how dangerous it is to have a company that refuses to pay a decent living wage.
Pat picked up on this and was outraged by the personal testimony from former associates and managers alike about how Wal-Mart sponges off the tax-payers because their employees’ wages are kept artificially low and then these workers can’t afford housing, health care or basic nutrition for their kids. It’s up to the state to supply these workers with housing vouchers, Medicaid and WIC in order that they not starve, die or become homeless.
Mike plays off Pat’s comments here and then adds that he thinks it’s outrageous that local governments too provide direct subsidies of our tax-payers’ dollars in order to get a Wal-Mart into their town. In the movie we visit a nearly destroyed Main Street, more then one actually, and the family that lost their IGA store when the Wal-Mart came in. Wal-Mart kills towns and cuts a swath of destruction through Main Streets all over the country. Although “tax abatement” packages are regularly given to Wal-Mart stores by local government, they are rarely offered to Mom and Pop stores that used to form the backbone of our towns and small cities.
The matriarch of the IGA clan is filmed ironing in her basement, paraphrase: “I just don’t understand, they do all this for Wal-Mart but they couldn’t do anything for us.” In the film former managers of Wal-Mart talk about how when they came in to a new town they would drive around
the business district laughing, pointing at the businesses and saying, “Three months… Six months…” for how long that store had before Wal-Mart forced them out. The film opens in a small town with a heartbreaking story of the same ilk. That’s not free trade, that’s tax-payer funded murder/suicide and a completely screwed up value system. And we as shoppers, voters and tax-payers are the enablers. We have to start asking some serious questions here. We have to start talking about this problem.
And now we turn to Jeff….
Jeff is the star of this vlog, Gov. Dukakis and Congressman Tierney notwithstanding and especially since I can’t vlog food accurately. Not yet at least.
Jeff is my closer in this vlog because he connects all the dots between Wal-Mart, free trade, cheap imports, the human suffering that goes into the low price equation, values, consumer choices, government accountability and then even America and our role in the world today.
He starts by talking about the scenes in the movie regarding the slave labor overseas that provide Wal-Mart with their cheap low quality merchandise and I really get into a conversation with Jeff so I’m sorry for the talk over:
I think it’s tragic that these folks in developing countries … are treated so poorly… for minimal amounts of money. In some cases…
They wash out of a bucket because they can’t afford a shower
Yeah exactly, I mean they are being held almost captive. They are living in facilities provided by the company that are so awful …
And if they move out they don’t have to pay their utilities but they still have to pay their rent to the company.
I mean it’s colonial. I’m not sure about what we can do. I’m not sure that boycotting Wal-Mart is the solution. We have to do that but we also have to talk to our representatives in Congress to say, “we can’t have most favored nation status with China … or India until they are more humanitarian with their workers.” … It’s becoming free slavery not free trade.
I don’t think that when Americans go to Wal-Mart … that they have any concept at all that there are people in China working 12 hours a day making 18 cents and hour to provide these items for them at such a low cost.
Right, the human suffering that it took to put that item on the shelf.
Right, exactly, I think people need to be aware of how low prices come about. How the smiley face is created for them… [on buying locally versus buying Wal-Mart] Right and it’s making all of the family members as we saw tonight from Wal-Mart richer. They’re all billionaires and they could give a damn about the rest of us. It’s all about more money flowing up. You know as much as they claim to be community oriented I don’t see that. This film represented that. It’s all a facade. It’s all about image… Again it’s a mixture of Wal-Mart practices and our government not following up with what we represent in the world as a more humanistic and compassionate nation.
Are we hypocritical as we go around the world like in Iraq and say, “look it, we’re in such a wonderful democracy and you should be just like us?” … Meanwhile and pardon my language, we’re screwing the rest of world, but in the mean time you have to be like us because we’re the best there is. You can’t be hypocritical and say, “we are the model for democracy in the world, but our capitalist background let’s us do these foul things to people all over the world.”
You are so right Jeff because it’s our values as Americans which are not reflected in this story that are our greatest strength and in forsaking them we are giving our enemies and our rivals in this world the very tools they need to defeat us. It’s our values that we abandon everyday when we enable Wal-Mart to exploit millions in this country and abroad all in the name of a buck. Our values are a heavy burden to bear, but they are a noble burden and they are more valuable to me as an American that any other thing that makes this country great.
Jeff, buddy, see you out there…
Spread the word. Rent the DVD. Share it and talk about it with friends and family. It’s important. It’s not just about Wal-Mart it’s about the whole damn ball of wax and it’s about the unraveling of the middle-class in this country that is under assault like never before in my lifetime.
1.5 million Americans are employed by Wal-Mart.
We can change Wal-Mart because money is all that they love and it’s our money.
And that’s the truth.
Many sources for this vlog are provided by Wake-Up Wal-Mart a labor advocacy group campaigning tirelessly to reform the largest employer in the country. They together with Wal-Mart Watch should be your first stops when you’re looking for information on the company especially when there is a story in the news.
I’d like to thank JR Monsterfodder a fellow kossack who blogs regularly here and at The Writing on the Wal for his regular features and all his hard work shining a light on the values and business practices of Wal-Mart in this country and abroad. I needed the Lee Scott quote on Medicaid in this diary. I couldn’t find it so I e-mailed him and he got back to me right away, thanks again JR. You’re a valuable member of the blogosphere committed to social justice, keep up the good work.
A couple of other Wal-Mart diaries I have written can be seen here:
- Wal-Mart’s Working Poor, this is the diary I wrote the morning after I saw the movie for the first time.
- Guerrilla vlogger: Edwards with Wake-Up Wal-Mart in Pittsburgh because nobody does social justice and economic fairness like John Edwards.
Do you shop at Wal-Mart? Are Wal-Mart values your values?
This is another in the continuing guerrilla vlogger (video blogger) series. I do all these pieces as a citizen journalist, as in I’m not paid and I don’t even have my own blog. Thank you for your support.