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UC Riverside Professor on PBS' Frontline


“Frontline” Segment ‘Is Wal-Mart Good For America?’ Includes UC Riverside Professor

Edna Bonacich, Professor of Sociology and Ethnic Studies, is One of Several Experts on Tuesday’s Show

(November 19, 2004)

Edna Bonacich

Edna Bonacich

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) -- The Public Broadcasting System (PBS) hour-long Frontline news program titled, “Is Wal-Mart Good for America?” included commentary on labor issues from UC Riverside Sociology and Ethnic Studies Professor Edna Bonacich.

She explains how global retailers, like Wal-Mart, have wrested control of the supply chain from manufacturers through a revolution in information technology and logistics. Capitalizing on technological innovations like the bar code, says Bonacich, has allowed Wal-Mart to "master the process of production, the movement of goods, the warehousing of goods, to make sure it arrives at the right place at the right time. And they're very good at squeezing the price out of that."

But, she argues, this efficiency has been at the expense of the American worker and the loss of American jobs. "What is going on is that manufacturing is leaving the United States … and moving to poorer and poorer countries," Bonacich tells Frontline. "And some people describe this as a 'race to the bottom,' because the various developing countries are vying for the work and are vying by undercutting each other…"

The main thrust of “Is Wal-Mart Good For America?” was the program’s focus on how Wal-Mart has been able to take advantage of the rise of information technology and the explosion of the global economy to change the balance of power in the world.

Ray Bracy, Wal-Mart’s vice president for federal and international public affairs, estimated that Wal-Mart each year imports approximately $15 billion worth of goods to the United States from China, with that figure expected to keep rising.

Nelson Lichtenstein, who teaches U.S. labor history at the University of California-Santa Barbara, said, “What I think is the road forward here is that we want to take the efficiencies generated by Wal-Mart — and they are real efficiencies — and we want to shape them and control them and regulate them in such a way that the benefits are distributed widely throughout the society, within the firm between its managers and its employees, and then in the rest of the United States as well.”

Bonacich, who earned her Ph.D. at Harvard University, studies race and labor. She has been interested in the garment industry and how it has been impacted by global production. She is currently working on a project on the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. She sees Los Angeles as a major node of globalization in the Pacific Rim, and is exploring how power is evolving.

The Frontline Home page includes a Teacher's Guide on the subject, and related links.

The University of California, Riverside (www.ucr.edu) is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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