Wal-Mart’s Competitors Help Fund Activist Campaigns

StopWalMartWhen we helped Robert Greenwald distribute his classic exposé documentary Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, we trumpeted the fact that we were receiving support from a panoply of unlikely allies, from the Sierra Club to the Petroleum Institute. It turns out that some of the megastore’s competitors have been helping out too, according to this report by Ann Zimmerman for the Wall Street Journal:

MUNDELEIN, Ill.—Robert Brownson long believed that his proposed development here, with its 200,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Supercenter, was being held hostage by nearby homeowners.

He had seen them protesting at city hall, and they had filed a lawsuit to stop the project.

What he didn’t know was that the locals were getting a lot of help. A grocery chain with nine stores in the area had hired Saint Consulting Group to secretly run the antidevelopment campaign. Saint is a specialist at fighting proposed Wal-Marts, and it uses tactics it describes as “black arts.”

As Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has grown into the largest grocery seller in the U.S., similar battles have played out in hundreds of towns like Mundelein. Local activists and union groups have been the public face of much of the resistance. But in scores of cases, large supermarket chains including Supervalu Inc., Safeway Inc. and Ahold NV have retained Saint Consulting to block Wal-Mart, according to hundreds of pages of Saint documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal and interviews with former employees.

Saint has jokingly called its staff the “Wal-Mart killers.” P. Michael Saint, the company’s founder, declines to discuss specific clients or campaigns. When read a partial list of the company’s supermarket clients, he responds that “if those names are true, I would say I was proud that some of the largest, most sophisticated companies were so pleased with our success and discretion that they hired us over the years.”

Supermarkets that have funded campaigns to stop Wal-Mart are concerned about having to match the retailing giant’s low prices lest they lose market share. Although they have managed to stop some projects, they haven’t put much of a dent in Wal-Mart’s growth in the U.S., where it has more than 2,700 supercenters—large stores that sell groceries and general merchandise. Last year, 51% of Wal-Mart’s $258 billion in U.S. revenue came from grocery sales.

In many cases, the pitched battles have more than doubled the amount of time it takes Wal-Mart to open a store…

[continues in the Wall Street Journal]

, ,

  • emperorreagan

    Surprise:
    Other major corporations in the same line of business just as unethical as Wal-Mart.

  • Cerebralcaustic

    There is nothing new under the sun; this is tired old Marxist politics of envy:

    “The German Social Democrats took the lead in developing the new strategy. As the party most directly descended from Marx himself and still the leading socialist party in the Western world, the Social Democrats made major changes to their Basic Program at a Special Party Congress at Bad Godesberg in November of 1959. The most significant of the changes emphasized equality. The 'Godesberg Program‛ recast the party from being a party of the defenseless and impoverished worker to being a party of the people at large. Since the worker seemed to be doing well enough under capitalism, the focus had to shift to different capitalist pathologies—the many inequalities across various social dimensions. One dimension singled out for special attention was the unequal sizes of business enterprises. Some businesses are much bigger than others, giving them an unfair advantage over their smaller competitors. So equalizing the competitive playing field became the new goal. No longer would the Social Democrats condemn all private businesses as rapacious and call for their outright socialization. Rather they would push for cutting bigger businesses down to size and for the strengthening small and middle sized businesses. In other words, achieving equality had supplanted satisfying basic needs as the revised standard by which to evaluate capitalism.

    “A variation on this strategy was implicit in a new definition of 'poverty‛ that the Left began to offer in the early 1960s: the poverty that capitalism causes is not absolute but relative. Popularized in the United States by Michael Harrington and others, the new argument abandoned the claim that capitalism would generate a
    physically malnourished and therefore revolutionary proletariat— capitalism did not cause such absolute poverty. Rather the proletariat would become revolutionary because, while their basic physical needs were being met, they saw that some others in society had relatively much more than they did. Feeling excluded and without real opportunities to achieve the good life the rich were enjoying, the proletariat would experience psychological oppression and thus be driven to desperate measures.”

    Stephen Hicks, Ph.D. Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault (2004)

    http://www.stephenhicks.org/wp-content/uploads/

    I live in Utah, and a small pest control company was in the news recently after children died following the company's irresponsible use of toxic chemicals. This incident disproves the thesis of the anti-Wal Mart activists' claim that big business is inherently bad and small business is inherently good. In fact, business and capitalism are neutral tools. Sometimes, the tools are used unfairly; other times they're beneficial and win-win. A knife can be used to stab you and steal your wallet; a knife can be used to remove a tumor and save your life.

    • emperorreagan

      I don't think that anyone makes an argument that small business is inherently good or that every small business engages in good business practices.

      There's arguments about what's better for the economy and better for competition…

      It's also hardly a left-wing/communist phenomena to champion small business. Hell, even good ol' Milton Friedman said something to the effect that non-beneficial monopolies would be eliminated by the elimination of the regulations/tax structures/etc that supported them and I hardly would call him a communist.

    • GWF Hegel

      capitalism isn't really a tool. it's a process. we might regard it as a tool in that some of its outcomes seem desired. we fool ourselves, some of the time, into thinking that because we desire some of the outcomes of capitalism then we must be using capitalism as a tool to get those outcomes. this is woefully naive. capitalism is rather that which shapes and constrains our agency, rather than unproblematically or “neutrally” (your term) extending it.

  • Hadrian999

    everyone works for the man, just not the same “the man”

  • GWF Hegel

    capitalism isn’t really a tool. it’s a process. we might regard it as a tool in that some of its outcomes seem desired. we fool ourselves, some of the time, into thinking that because we desire some of the outcomes of capitalism then we must be using capitalism as a tool to get those outcomes. this is woefully naive. capitalism is rather that which shapes and constrains our agency, rather than unproblematically or “neutrally” (your term) extending it.

  • GWF Hegel

    capitalism isn't really a tool. it's a process. we might regard it as a tool in that some of its outcomes seem desired. we fool ourselves, some of the time, into thinking that because we desire some of the outcomes of capitalism then we must be using capitalism as a tool to get those outcomes. this is woefully naive. capitalism is rather that which shapes and constrains our agency, rather than unproblematically or “neutrally” (your term) extending it.

21