God's Politics

God's Politics

Laurel Mathewson: Harry Potter Takes on Lord Waldemart

When you think of labor unions, do you think of men in coveralls, meeting in dingy buildings late at night, trying to get the public’s attention through strikes or maybe a small newspaper clipping? (I’ll admit it, I kind of do). Well, it’s time to reset that union image—the fight for fair labor practices just got a lot hipper.

They’re spoofing the new Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, to raise awareness about the evil practices of Lord Waldemart (aka Wal-Mart).

As the Chicago Tribune reports, Wal-Mart Watch (which is backed by the Service Employees International Union) has released a YouTube video and an accompanying Web site,, to get its serious message across to a new generation, in a lighter way.

As Andrew Slack, a comedian, activist, and actor in the video says: “I’m a big believer in the power of humor to create social change and get the message out there. … We don’t want anyone feeling that they’re being lectured at. We want to break away from that to what they’re interested in, and humans tend to be interested in laughing.”

For those humans who adamantly support Wal-Mart’s labor practices, the movie won’t likely strike a chord. But for fans of Harry Potter who are indifferent or already see a darker side to Uncle Sam Walton’s smiley face, this video is a stunning debut for the latest player in YouTube politics: Big Labor.

Laurel Mathewson is an editorial assistant for Sojourners magazine.

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posted July 18, 2007 at 12:30 pm

Hmmm…so instead of picturing labor unions reps as burly goons in overalls carrying baseballs bats I now think of them as nerdy 20-somethings who just got back from the latest anti-globalization riot.
As for content, I can’t keep up with the frenetic pace of the video to understand what’s going on, accept I did figure out that Walmart is bad, very very bad. Of course, the millions people who work and shop there don’t seem to mind it. So I don’t know who to believe. Labor union reps or average Americans. Hmmmm…

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posted July 18, 2007 at 4:03 pm

Wow, that video sure will go a long way toward resurrecting the image of labor unions and bringing them into the 21st Century! After seeing that, I have completely forgotten that unions have traditionally been excuses for mob infiltration and corruption!(sarcasm) I could have made a better video with only myself and my dog without the need to rip off Harry Potter. Wal-Mart does have its problems, but overall I think that it has done a great job in employing people in communities throughout the country. Yes, they could probably get paid more, but it is still a good employer and provider of many goods and services that might not otherwise be available. Wal-Mart isn’t perfect and I personally prefer other stores such as Target, but I have always found Wal-Mart to be a good place to get something for a low price.

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posted July 18, 2007 at 5:23 pm

What I know about Wal-Mart is this, they are undoubtedly involved in union-busting activities. For proof, simply consider what happened to the Quebec Wal-Marts that closed almost immediately when their people (in accordance with Canadian law) established the first unionized workforce. It may be true that they sell stuff for a bit less; however, doesn’t “love your neighbor” include the person working at the store?
Sure, there have been abuses by labor in the past and present too. But something that labor has learned is that it benefits NO ONE to harm the company. So with that in mind, people are more likely to get a fair shake. Management has less of an incentive to give workers a fair shake if they can be seen as totally expendable. Due to the large number of workers relative to employers, that sadly tends to be the case often.

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posted July 18, 2007 at 5:36 pm

There is lots of evidence to show that working at Wal-Mart does not pay a living wage. But then, Wal-Mart officials admit that they don’t strive to hire breadwinners, but rather part-timers who need a little ‘extra’. While MadHatter07 is right that you can get something for a low price at Wal-Mart, it would be good to ask how Wal-Mart can afford to keep their prices so low. Well, they force their suppliers to reduce their prices to them. In turn, the suppliers reduce their wages to the people who produce the products. That’s one of the reasons there are so many sweatshops overseas producing things so that we can buy them cheaply. Someone has to pay for our privilege–in this case, they are the workers in China, India, Mexico, Philipines, and elsewhere. And if this is the only work going, they don’t have a choice of working somewhere else.
There are many things that offend me about Wal-Mart practices. One of the major ones is that Wal-Mart’s low pricing destroys other shopping opportunities in towns. Gone are the Mom and Pop operations that were places where communities gather; gone are the shops that have been in our towns for eons; gone are the centers of the cities (since W-M tends to be outside the center in order to develop the large hunks of property they require). There are MANY U.S. towns that now have only a Wal-Mart and where the downtown area is largely empty or boarded-up.
Oh, and by the way, many Wal-Mart employees don’t earn enough to be able to buy things at Wal-Mart once they’ve paid the rent.
As for the video, I think it’s great. But then, I’ve read, and enjoyed, all the Harry Potter books so far and I’m really looking forward to reading the one being released this weekend.

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posted July 18, 2007 at 6:31 pm

I really don’t buy the argument that Walmart treats its employees worse than any other company or Mom and Pop store. The most compelling anti-Walmart argument is how it can negatively impact smaller businesses, make things more homogeneous, and erode community.
But on the rare occasions that I shop at Walmart, I mostly see people in lower income brackets. Like it or not…Walmart is very good for consumers.

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posted July 18, 2007 at 8:27 pm

That’s one of the reasons there are so many sweatshops overseas producing things so that we can buy them cheaply.
That was one of the major frustrations I had when living on the U.S.-Mexico border. The maquilas paid their Mexican employess $40 per week for 40 hours of work. Yet the cost of living (like food, housing) etc. was not proportionately cheaper over there. So while we import all of this stuff from abroad, we erode our job market.
Any solutions? I don’t see an easy answer to this. The free traders would say let the markets correct themselves. How long will that take? How long must we wait and must they wait?
Wal-Mart is the epitomy of globalization. I would agree with Jesse that they probably don’t treat their employees worse than the local mom and pop shops except that the local mom and pop shops in many instances are family owned and operated and in that case they probably are better off with their own businesses.

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posted July 18, 2007 at 11:02 pm

Walmart is a mixed bag for me. It is true the drive down wages for their suppliers. They pretty much ran Rubbermaid out of business. Someone else owns the name and the products are now made in China or somewhere similiar.
As far as Unions go. If employees want to form a union they can, it is their right. But if Walmart wants to close a store because of unionization it is their right also.
Competition in retail has always been tough. Each generation has it’s Sear’s , JC Penney’s, and Walmarts. In twenty years Walmart will be a shell of what it is today because someone else will find a way to do it better. And when it happens someone will bemoan the fact and call the usurper of Walmart evil.

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kevin s.

posted July 18, 2007 at 11:30 pm

The mom & pop myth is used to prop up union interests the same way the “family farm” is used to propogate farm bill after farm bill.
The market will adjust to Walmart. Walmart is painful to shop at, and “big-box” retailers such as Loews have figured out how to combine convenience, low prices, and customer service. Customer service only comes when you reward those who are good at customer service.
I am uninterested in having the government intervene on behalf of union interests.

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posted July 19, 2007 at 12:18 am

rent ‘walmart: the high cost of low prices’ if you can, its cold facts will have you much angrier than such a skit as this. used to be an avid walmart shopper, never again, not in good conscience. they cover so many avenues of badness you will be astounded.

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posted July 19, 2007 at 2:14 am

kevin s, I don’t see anyone arguing for government intervention on behalf of union interests. I care about the impact of Walmart because they have destroyed so many communities. The mom & pop store is simply one illustration of a business that arises from people who live in the community; it’s one of the small businesses that enables people to improve their lot in life. Wal-Mart, on the other hand, comes from away; while they may hire local people, they have no interest in the community as such, and they certainly don’t treat their employees well. Forcing people to work overtime but not clock the time in as overtime is simply one of many examples of exploitive labor practices. And while some will say: well, people aren’t forced to work there, my response is: well, if it’s the only game in town and you have to make some money, you ARE kinda forced into working there.
I support nad2’s suggestion that people watch the film “Walmart: the high cost of low prices”. Prepare to be surprised!

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posted July 19, 2007 at 9:30 am

Bren – When states pass laws targetted specifically at one company (Walmart) at the urging of unions, that is intervening on behalf of union interests. Maryland did just that last year.

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posted July 19, 2007 at 10:25 am

Jesse says:
“The most compelling anti-Walmart argument is how it can negatively impact smaller businesses, make things more homogeneous, and erode community.”
And part of that is that, on balance, it destroys rather than creating jobs.
Here’s something else that Walmart is apparently doing:

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kevin s.

posted July 19, 2007 at 1:13 pm

“kevin s, I don’t see anyone arguing for government intervention on behalf of union interests”
It is happening across the country. It almost happened in Chicago, where they targetted (no pun intended) “big box retailers” for a special minimum wage that applied to no other businesses. The city council pulled the plug when Target threatened to pull some major developments they were planning in the city.
Incidentally, if Walmart were the employer in town, there would be nobody to shop at the store.

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Rob M.

posted July 19, 2007 at 3:06 pm

It’s about short-term convenience versus long-term sustainability. Right now shopping at Wal-Mart is an attractive choice because of lower prices, not only for produced goods, but also for food. Those prices are artificially low because Wal-Mart can afford it. Once they dominate the market those prices will disappear and there will be no choice.
Wal-Mart is a business – big business – whose purpose is to make as much money for its top executives and shareholders. If you don’t think they need a check/balance like a labor union (which is preferable to the government) to keep them accountable, you are mistaken. Big businesses take advantage of people, period. This isn’t cynicism – it’s reality. It’s also incredibly un-just to turn HUGE profits for the few at the top of the pyramid and to neglect those masses at the base. Nobody’s saying Wal-Mart execs shouldn’t earn a profit, but by the same token, don’t expect those same people to put the brakes on when they feel they’ve earned enough. How much is enough?

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kevin s.

posted July 19, 2007 at 3:15 pm

“Once they dominate the market those prices will disappear and there will be no choice.”
I think Aldi, Ikea and Target will have something to say about that. Actually, w/r/t the first two, I think they may be ushering in a new way of shopping that again changes the model. And their European, so liberals are required to love them.
“Nobody’s saying Wal-Mart execs shouldn’t earn a profit, but by the same token, don’t expect those same people to put the brakes on when they feel they’ve earned enough. How much is enough?”
You are correct that Walmart’s goal is to make money for shareholders. You are incorrect that the goal is to make money for the execs. Execs will not earn big paychecks if they do not make money for shareholders.
If they make money for shareholders, then a lot of people profit.

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kevin s.

posted July 20, 2007 at 1:15 am

Hmmm. Just watched the clip. Not funny, except for the “I’m trying to park here you f!@#$%^ Wizard!” line. That was solid.

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rafi s.

posted July 25, 2007 at 2:03 pm

I’m late replying here. But as a Christian, I can’t let go by the apparent lack of compassion for working people associated with an unwarranted defense of our corporate-driven economic system. Obviously state controlled economics failed. But that doesn’t meant this system is the best humanity can do. Notice that corporatism is not the same as capitalism. The latter is a system based on free enterprise; the efforts of individuals who are responsible for their businesses. The corporate form grew out of an underhanded attempt to apply the protections of the Bill of Rights, meant for people, to inanimate and therefore irresponsible structures. The notion of running an organization as a reward solely to stockholders is questionable as well. What about those who actually generate profits: management and labor? Not to mention the community without which no system functions. Except for the initial stock offering, stocks are like used car sales. The profit doesn’t go back to Ford when someone buys a used Mustang. Neither does selling stocks. Yet whoever has them somehow becomes entitled in perpetuity.
Capitalist theory is also flawed. Everything outside of accounting parameters, such as the disruption of communities and the destruction of ecosystems, is called an “externality.” It doesn’t count. Much amounts to bad theology. An omniscience (the market) which is omnipotent (the invisible hand) whose rules are interpreted for the rest of us by mostly old white men (economists.) But these rules were not given by God nor are they the result of natural evolution. They are human political decisions, codified into law.

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