Student groups working to address labor, poverty and environmental issues came together at the Yale Law School Tuesday night to present a new movie about Wal-Mart and workers struggling against corporate America.
The movie, “Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices,” was co-sponsored by the Yale Law School Workers’ Rights Project and other social justice organizations on campus in order to raise awareness about alleged abuses of workers’ rights by Wal-Mart, Workers’ Rights Project co-chair Jonathan Schmidt LAW ’06 said.
“Wal-Mart is not a problem,” Schmidt said as he introduced the movie. “It’s the problem.”
The Law School’s screening of Robert Greenwald’s latest documentary is one of 3,000 such screenings taking place nationwide this week.
In addition to undergraduate and graduate students, the audience included members of the greater New Haven community. Schmidt and Angie Thompson LAW ’07, also a co-chair of the Workers’ Rights Project, said they believe the movie is important for raising awareness within the Yale community.
“The movie is relevant because it shows real people hurt by Wal-Mart’s abuses,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt and Thompson said the movie touches on broad issues including human rights violations, gender and race discrimination, and environmental protection. They said the film captures Wal-Mart’s irresponsibility regarding these issues and the impact the corporation has on people.
“It shows ordinary folk in blue and red states who have been harmed because Wal-Mart breaks laws,” Schmidt said.
Local 35 President Bob Proto said that while he is not familiar with the movie itself, he believes Wal-Mart breaks labor laws.
“Wal-Mart, when they move into an area, lowers the standard of both pay and medical benefits,” he said. “Wherever they go, they don’t provide the same standard of jobs as a good union job.”
But while Proto said Wal-Mart’s low-paying jobs have negatively affected the American middle class, Bert Ferrara ’07, a member of the Yale College Republicans, said people need to examine the Wal-Mart situation more closely before passing judgment against the corporation. Ferrara said the movie is just a crusade by grocery workers who see Wal-Mart’s policies as an infringement on their rights to be unionized.
“Wal-Mart has done a great job of achieving economies of scale,” Ferrara said.
Ferrara said he admires Wal-Mart because it has brought higher standards of living to the American consumer.
“It’s an unbelievable business model they have there,” he said. “Wal-Mart promotes efficiency not gained by unionized labor.”
Ferrara said Wal-Mart has also helped support survivors of Hurricane Katrina, but Schmidt said Wal-Mart only takes corporate interests into account.
“Wal-Mart represents irresponsibility of large corporations,” Schmidt said. “Society shouldn’t be bent on corporate interests.”
Schmidt said he hopes that after seeing the movie, people will take action and inform others to act against Wal-Mart.
David Tian ’07, who helped bring the movie to Yale, said the film interests him because he cares about workers’ rights and the pressing need for poverty alleviation. He said people in the New Haven community need to realize that hard working people are often left behind in society despite their efforts to make a living.
Other students who attended the screening said they came to learn more about workers’ rights, and left with a new perspective on Sam Walton’s chain.
“I think Wal-Mart symbolizes many things that students are concerned about regarding the power of multi-national corporations and especially their disregard of workers’ rights, both in this country and in this world,” Ben Hensler LAW ’06 said.
The movie was followed by a short discussion session.