Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Wal-Mart Movie: A Review

We just got back from the world premiere of the Wal-Mart Movie and we couldn’t be more impressed. The film deals with a lot the usual Wal-Mart criticisms – affects on small business, workers, unions, the environment and health care – but does so in a uniquely engaging way. By talking directly to mom and pop shops put out of businesses and interviewing a number of current and former Wal-Mart managers and workers, director Robert Greenwald effectively personalizes the struggle against the world’s largest corporation.

The scenes with former Wal-Mart managers were perhaps most intriguing. In them, you see one-time bosses painfully discussing how they and people they knew carried out aggressive and illegal anti-union campaigns, erased overtime from store computers, boasted about the destruction of area downtowns and encouraged their employees to seek out public safety net programs. Though some of these critiques have been leveled before, never have they been brought to life in such a way by so many who actually worked for the company.

Another interesting portion of the film dealt with the crime that is so prevalent in Wal-Mart parking lots. The movie featured story after story about rapes, murders, kidnappings, robberies and molestations that occurred outside Wal-Mart. The point was that Wal-Mart knew that its lots were dangerous but did next to nothing to prevent this reoccurring pattern of crime. As we’ve mentioned, the big box is a magnet for these activities and its sheer size both inside and out attract undesirable elements to communities. This is just one of many reasons why residential, homeowner neighborhoods are so loath play host to Wal-Mart.

The Wal-Mart Movie ends by highlighting the various successful site fights against Wal-Mart. From a New York City perspective, one of the most salient campaigns occurred in Arizona where the Bentonville-based giant wanted to build a store on the edge of a quiet, residential community. Not only did the planned supercenter abut a homeowner neighborhood, but it also was right by an elementary school and junior high. This is exactly the same situation we have in Staten Island where Wal-Mart is looking to built its first NYC location in residential Tottenville, right by PS6 (elementary) and IS34 (middle school). After a grassroots, neighborhood-based campaign, the Arizona store was unanimously defeated and we believe the same thing will happen here.

When we made our conservative case against Wal-Mart in New York City we never thought that it would be articulated so well in movie form. But Robert Greenwald, Lisa Smithline, Jim Gilliam and everyone who made the film possible did just this and deserve tremendous praise. In fact, the best way to acknowledge such outstanding work is to buy the DVD and host a screening.