Remember that Biggie line from “Ten Crack Commandments” about how money and blood don’t mix? That saying isn’t solely true on the streets; it’s also an accurate description of corporate America. We The People: The Market Basket Effect provides us with a prime example of this, delving into the history and growth of the infamous New England discount grocer Market Basket to show us how it got to the point where employees didn’t show up to work after their beloved CEO Arthur T. Demoulas was fired during the summer of 2014.
If you’re from New England, you know damn well that Market Basket isn’t your normal grocery store. Market Basket is an emotional subject for as much as a quarter of the New England population, primarily those in the Merrimack Valley area. Practically everyone within driving distance of one shops there, and most of those people know personally a neighbor, friend and/or family member who works there or has worked there in the past. Market Basket offers the cheapest prices to their customers and they offer the best benefits in their field to their employees. Let me emphasize one last time: People in New England love Market Basket.
So to understand exactly why employees didn’t show up to work during the summer of 2014, you not only need to understand New England but also the history itself of Market Basket—and that is some of the very particular subject matter examined in We The People: The Market Basket Effect. Shot all across Massachusetts and featuring interviewees ranging from Demoulas family friends to employees to scholars to customers to politicians and many more, the documentary does its job in providing you with a wide range of opinions regarding the subject matter (yes, there are a plethora of authentic Bahston ah-s dropped)—and all of the opinions sway one way.
Employees weren’t showing up to work because Arthur T. Demoulas’ cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas, felt that Arty T. was giving way too much profit back to his employees, and thus finagled a way to get rid of him, later hiring a search firm to find a bidder for the company. During his time as CEO, Arty T. not only dramatically increased company sales, he hired thousands of more employees, offering them profit sharing, larger than average bonuses and the highest starting wage among their competitors. The bottom line wasn’t his top priority.
Arty T. is quoted saying, “I’ll work until I can’t stand up. If that’s what they need from me, that’s what I’m gonna do,” and he meant it. People actually came together for a grocery store because of him. Employees didn’t show up to work, customers boycotted and distributors refused to do drop-offs all because of a situation they thought was unfair and unjust. Arthur T. Demoulas is now the majority shareholder and CEO of Market Basket again because of this. The good guy won.
Arty T. was beloved by his employees because his philosophy was that no one person’s job is more important than another’s—and that’s the real paradox of this documentary. The truth of the matter is that the Chief Executive Officer is infinitely more important than any regional manager, deli counter worker or bagger the company employs because without a CEO that stands up for their workers, there’s no way for workers to feel motivated enough to feel important, which allows Market Basket to operate under its current pricing structure. It’s a point missed entirely in We The People: The Market Basket Effect, yet it doesn’t make the documentary—or the story—feel any less genuine.
And that’s why We The People: The Market Basket Effect is a necessary documentary, though it may be rather average from a filmmaking perspective. Directed by Tommy Reid (whose directorial work includes TV shows Dads Doin’ Dishes and My Life As A Dad) and narrated by The Shield‘s Michael Chiklis, the film’s structure may be ordinary, but it’s a great a reminder of the fact that in the David vs. Goliath-like battle of Blue Collar America vs. Corporate America, Blue Collar America scored a big win. It’s documentation that the little guy won for once, and perhaps inspiration that the little guy can win again in the future.