Concordia's Thursday Report

Vol. 28, No.15

May 6, 2004


Wal-Mart, meet überculture — coast to coast

By Shannon Devine

click to enlarge Group Wal-Town

Left to right in Belleville, Ont., where the first effort to unionize Walmart employees failed: Johanne Savoy, Tim McSorley, Tom Price, Danielle Dalzell, Ezra Winton and Samara Chadwick. Danielle is graduating from Concordia this year, and the others are current Concordia students.
Photo by Jason Gondziola

Armed with handfuls of flyers and some reels of videotape, six Concordia students, two documentary filmmakers and one journalist are going to take on a billion-dollar retailing empire.

As of April 29, the activist group überculture will visit 22 towns across the country, both those already affected by Wal-Mart and those who are slated to have a store built. Beginning in Jonquière, Que., the group will follow the Trans-Canada High-way in minivans all the way to Vancouver, arriving there almost a month later.

The group is concerned with the company’s labour violations in North Amer-ica and abroad, and the impact they have on small communities.  

“Wal-Mart transforms the town by taking most of the life out of the downtown area, and it pulls people out of it to the outskirts where they have the room to set up these big box stores,” said Tim McSorley, a political science and journalism student who is participating in the tour.

The Wal-Mart syndrome causes the virtual death of the downtown core, normally a hub of community activity. That’s the inspiration for the tour’s title, Wal-Town, and its slogan, “Your town is our town, eventually.”

In towns that already have a Wal-Mart store, the group will set up their folding table in the parking lot, distributing flyers about workers‚ rights and the importance of supporting home-grown commerce, as well as strategies for improving working conditions such as allowing employees to unionize, as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In the two towns where citizens are working against the construction of a Wal-Mart, the group will distribute information about the economic fallout associated with the store and how to lobby local government to prevent the big-box store from being built.

In Stratford, Ont., the group has also been invited to distribute information on the east side of town where Wal-Mart is negotiating a new store.

“A big part of what we are doing is not just bringing people information, but us learning from them as well,” McSorley said. They will meet with citizen groups in the communities, talk to people outside the store, and conduct interviews for a documentary to be made about the trip.

As part of their presentation, the group will also screen The Corporation, a documentary by Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbott and Joel Bakan.

Raising awareness about Wal-Mart is part of a larger human rights movement, according to McSorley. An executive member of the Quebec branch of the Canadian Federation of Students, he explained that the cheap prices Wal-Mart is famous for are a result of deplorable working conditions.

“People our age or younger are working in sweatshops making these things,” McSorley said. “Part of the fight against sweatshops is also the fight for young people to have alternatives to going and working for these companies, going to school, having better jobs.”

For more information or regular updates about the Wal-Town tour, visit: