Readers Write: Turning Up the Heat on Wal-Mart

We received scores of reader responses to Don Hazen’s article of June 1, Turning Up the Heat on Wal-Mart, about filmmaker Robert Greenwald's upcoming expose of the maligned mega-chain.

Greenwald's documentary, Wal-Mart: the High Cost of Low Price, is scheduled for release in November, and national associations of many stripes -- from the United Church of Christ to the Petroleum Marketers Association of America -- are organizing to promote the film's agenda.

What is the film's agenda? To expose the injustices behind Wal-Mart's famously low prices. "This is the largest corporation in the world, and it is running roughshod over family business and workers throughout the country," Greenwald explains in the article.

Wal-Mart relies on cost-cutting to keep customers coming back, but in so doing, local businesses across the country have been run into the ground, unable to compete with Wal-Mart's predatory pricing.

How else is Wal-Mart wicked? Our readers enumerate the ways -- the ridiculously rich institution doesn't share its wealth, instead depending on low-wage workers (its 1.2 million American workers make an average of $9.99/hour); it outsources virtually all of its product manufacturing; gets big-box tax breaks to introduce more and more stores -- and more and more sprawl -- to American communities... And the list goes on.

After receiving so many comments in reponse to Hazen's story, we've decided to showcase some below.

Reader Paul-D expressed regret that his rural relatives were forced to shop at Wal-Mart for lack of alternatives. "My beloved in-laws live in a painfully rural community in Eastern Kentucky," he wrote. "Virtually the ONLY store they can shop at is the local Wal-Mart. I'd like to try to convince them to drive a little further and shop elsewhere, but they won't do it.

“I'm going to make sure they see this movie. Hopefully we can engage in a dialog about this afterward, and maybe I can pursuade them to get involved in their community and make sure Wal-Mart doesn't gain any more ground than it already has."

Reader Phatkat, also rurally located, acknowledged a personal mistrust for the chain but reminded us (again), "when you are rural, and retired on a fixed income, it is hard NOT to shop there. I buy as little as possible, but there are some things that are either unavailable elsewhere, or are twice the price elsewhere. A sorry impasse."

Kirk, a pastor, agreed: "Wal-Mart has moved into rural communities in a way that makes one either drive so far [that] everything costs more, due to time and gas; or go without."

But he addressed some small ways shoppers can help thwart the big W: "I do find that many local retailers will order items especially for me, and sometimes put in price breaks, since I do other shopping there too. It doesn't hurt that I'm a pastor, but maybe you can obtain similar services for at least some of your shopping. No one should be expected to make unreasonable sacrifices; if we all do what we can, local businesses will be stable, and Wal-Mart will shrink."

Pjbretz, from a "small town of around 25,000" residents, recalled commiserating with a Wal-Mart employee during a recent visit. "I was in line for 30 minutes at one of the express lanes...talking to...an employee of the store. She said that a couple of weeks ago, the manager had to come in on a Saturday to help check people out, because some of the checkers had not come in. And for $6.25 an hour, I don't think I would show up either."

Phatcat also weighed in on Wal-Mart's skimpy hourly wages. "When Wal-Mart's wages are posted as being around $10/hr, it is deceptive. The people who work in the stores get much less, but their fleet truck drivers make wages similar to Costco's workers, or $16/hr. The drivers' wages skew the average upward! It's WORSE than it looks!"

Though all of our readers/commenters agreed on the monolithic bully's evils, opinions were mixed about Greenwald's upcoming documentary. Most were excited, but some doubted that the film could achieve its intended impact on mass culture.

"It makes me feel pretty good to know that someone has taken the time to expose the policies and deceptions of Wal-Mart on the big screen," wrote Ratmonster Spook. "I don't expect any changes to take place as a result, though.

"No, I'm not one of the depressed liberals who decided to give up hope after the election. I just know how the greed cycle works. People want stuff. Wal-Mart has cheap stuff, and lots of it. It's made in China, and I can pretty much guarantee you that the people who shop there don't care. They don't care even if it's pointed out to them that Wal-Mart is causing the destruction of many small businesses. Even if they're shown how much money Wal-Mart sends outside of the U.S...people still won't care."

Another reader, Helenwheels, expressed a similarly critical sentiment about the movie's ability -- or lack thereof -- to change Wal-Mart's monopoly on the market. "Wal-Mart isn't going to disappear because of this movie any more than Bush [was going to lose] power after Michael Moore's movie, Fahrenheit 9-11," she noted.

"We always get so hopeful when the truth comes out on the big screen, and these exposes do affect change to a degree, but shockingly enough, they don't seem to change things as much as one would surmise."

But Helenwheels closed on a hopeful note, acknowledging the value of films like Greenwald's. "I am thankful for Greenwald's work, and I truly hope it doesn't merely piss off a bunch of higher-ups for awhile and then disappear, like Farenheit 9-11. My hope upon hope is that if it doesn't manage to set off a chain of events that topples Wal-Mart, it may at least inspire new activists against big business and greedy corporations."

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