Friday, November 23, 2012

A Thought For Black Friday

Image credit: OURWalmart

Today, the day after Thanksgiving in America, is usually referred to by retail employees as "Black Friday", because it's the start of the Christmas holiday shopping season, and it's typically one of, if not the craziest day of the year. It's the beginning of that four week period when I try to avoid being near any retail space, particularly if it's a shopping mall or a big department store.

For Walmart employees, it's an especially important day, as the Lakewood [New Jersey] Local reports:

Walmart has been controversial for years. Supporters praise the company for offering low prices to consumers and employing large numbers of people. Detractors say most of those jobs come with low pay and bad working conditions. Now, Walmart workers are trying to organize a single massive strike on Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving, and the “official” start of Christmas shopping season). And they’re using social media to muster the troops.

Walmart workers might be reluctant to strike for fear of losing their jobs, especially the ones who live in states with “at-will” employment laws. But Facebook and other outlets make it easier for supporters to educate would-be strikers about what rights at-will workers do have.

Walmart Workers Plan Black Friday Strike

It's been a bit harder to come by reporting on this issue than I would have imagined, given that there are so many Walmarts in America. This action follows a set of local walkouts in October. At least a couple of progressive groups out there are trying to lend support, as BizTimes reports:

If the retailer does not address the workers’ demands, “We will make sure that Black Friday is memorable for them,” striking worker Colby Harris, from Dallas, told

Harris said the workers are prepared to engage in strikes, leafleting to customers and “flash mobs.”

Harris was joined on a press call announcing the deadline by leaders of the National Consumers League, the National Organization of Women (NOW) and the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, three of the national organizations that have pledged support for the workers’ efforts.

Absent a resolution, said NOW president Terri O’Neill, NOW members will join Walmart workers outside stores on Black Friday to ask customers “whether they really want to spend their dollars on a company that treats workers this way.”

Walmart employees threaten to strike on Black Friday

Which brings me to the subject of this essay. One of the ways I've been accused of being a moron over the years has been my refusal to shop at places like Walmart and Amazon, partly due to how they treat their workers. I keep being told that it doesn't really make a difference, since all those other employers do awful things to their employees, and why am I not refusing to shop there, too? Apparently, the fact that no business is perfect, and that I'm not conducting a consumer jihad on all of them, means that refusing to buy at some of the worst of them doesn't mean jack. Well, I don't know about that, and I know about these places. They don't get my business, because they stifle unions, and make their workers labor in dehumanizing and sometimes dangerous conditions, like this Amazon warehouse in a report from last year:

Over the past two months, The [Allentown, PA] Morning Call interviewed 20 current and former warehouse workers who showed pay stubs, tax forms or other proof of employment. They offered a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what it's like to work in the Amazon warehouse, where temperatures soar on hot summer days, production rates are difficult to achieve and the permanent jobs sought by many temporary workers hired by an outside agency are tough to get.

Only one of the employees interviewed described it as a good place to work.

Workers said they were forced to endure brutal heat inside the sprawling warehouse and were pushed to work at a pace many could not sustain. Employees were frequently reprimanded regarding their productivity and threatened with termination, workers said. The consequences of not meeting work expectations were regularly on display, as employees lost their jobs and got escorted out of the warehouse. Such sights encouraged some workers to conceal pain and push through injury lest they get fired as well, workers said.

Inside Amazon's Warehouse

Yes, but Walmart hires all those old folks, who probably wouldn't find jobs otherwise. Yeah, so what? No one who can't get government medical care can afford to work there for long. Amazon has great customer service. Well, there's a peek behind the curtain, does it still feel good getting that free shipping?

Of course, these are often the same sorts of people who wonder why I wouldn't vote for Barack Obama, despite his having done nothing of significance for workers' rights since he took office, among other egregious failings, or why the Occupy folks bothered with all that protesting and stuff.

I've developed a philosophy about these folks, which I'll summarize as follows:

When they accomplish something useful, I'll start paying attention. Meanwhile, Screw 'em. I've had enough of pathetic rationalizations this year.

Unfortunately, though, because I already don't shop there, I can't really say I'm doing anything to support Walmart employees in their quest for better working conditions and benefits, beyond passing on a perspective from Rose Aguilar:

Because their wages are so low, 25 per cent of all Walmart warehouse workers depend on government assistance to provide for their families and 37 per cent work more than one job, according to Warehouse Workers for Justice.

On September 28, Southern California warehouse workers returned to work after a 15-day strike that included a six-day, 50-mile pilgrimage for safe jobs. "We no longer feel like we are working in the shadows," said Carlos Martinez, a warehouse worker who went on strike and participated in the 50-mile WalMarch from the warehouses in the Inland Empire to Downtown Los Angeles.

"We've never had this much attention on our working conditions and I have never felt this much support. I feel ecstatic going back to work and proud that we have all stood together as a team."

Walmart And Black Friday Protests

So here's my plea at the start of this holiday shopping season: Where you spend your money makes a difference. Buy local when you can. Buy union. Buy from companies that try to use green energy, do fair trade, or at least do something to make the world a better place. And this Black Friday, at least, don't buy at Walmart.

Caption: A union emblem at the store where I buy groceries. Does your store have such a sign?

Image credit: Cujo359

We are paying for those low, low Walmart prices with our tax dollars, as the people who own it stay the richest family in America. Yes, you can't always make an ideal choice where to spend your money, and there will be times when it's too inconvenient to find alternatives. To me, the important thing is to redirect our dollars to businesses that behave better whenever it's possible. I see no reason to make the Waltons richer, as they continue to make their workers dependent on government services.

If you want to talk about ineffectual gestures, voting for President and Congress in this last election strikes me as one. Neither major party will do anything but reduce our "entitlements", while refusing to prosecute the people who crashed the economy and made the tax base shrivel up like last year's poinsettia. Nowhere near enough progressives voted for the Green or other third parties, which means that the Democrats still have absolutely no incentive to do anything other than what they've been doing. Even when I worked for the government, I had absolutely no effect on the way it spent its money, or the way it behaved itself, for that matter. All I can do is control how I spend my money. Where you and I spend our money is something they think is important, at least if there are enough of us spending it where it will do the least harm.

The more we do that, just like the more we don't let Democratic politicians have our votes when they don't earn them, the more likely we are to see the kind of world we want to see. If you don't agree, then just go away. I've already heard everything you have to say, and I'm no longer interested.

Afterword: For more on the Walmart strike, check out OURWalmart.


One Fly said...

That pretty much sums that up quite nicely.

When you speak of buying local the number of local businesses these stores replaced has to be staggering.

Cujo359 said...

Sadly, in many places in America these days, there are no good alternatives to Walmart. Still, there are lots of us who do have alternatives, and right now is an excellent time to make use of them.

Expat said...

Here in Spain there still is a healthy mix of tiendas (shops) offering a huge variety of product options, actually being spoilt for choice for most products. Unfortunately a 25%+ unemployment rate has put a dent in demand and the increasingly vacant shops are becoming quite noticeable particularly on streets outside the dominate shopping areas. The future promised by austerity will collapse businesses even in the best addresses as the economic system goes into its version of cardiac arrest. Becoming more evident everyday are variety shops of Chinese goods as more people are looking for the cheapest prices to further their incomes/savings.

Walmart and their like are indeed economic expletives (do not delete). Support your local union workers and those who hire them, they are not your enemy.

Cujo359 said...

Becoming more evident everyday are variety shops of Chinese goods as more people are looking for the cheapest prices to further their incomes/savings.

Kinda how it went here, too, with the Walmarts. As people had less to spend, they started spending it on cheap imports and stores that treat their employees like interchangeable parts.

And yes, it's good that you mention that bit about unions not being an enemy. A lot of folks in America seem to think so. They can be, and have been, pretty useless at times, and I am personally familiar with wondering where all those union dues went to. Still, they don't have to be that way, and some have shown a genuine interest in making their members' lives better. What's more, it's pretty clear that they're one of the few ways employees at large companies can get fair treatment from their employers.

Expat said...

A new rule of thumb for voting. If a candidate for national political office does not have a valid post-doctorate in MMT economics, they will not receive your vote. If a candidate for state office does not have a doctorate in MMT economics, they likewise will not receive your vote. Candidates for local and county office not having a masters and working for doctorate in MMT economics, will not receive your vote. It is time to draw the line in the sand on ignorance in public office.

If a candidate for public office so much as mentions: Free markets, invisible hand, trickle-down, market self-regulation or supply-side, they should be immediately branded as liars, tarred and feathered and railed as far away as possible.

Cujo359 said...

I'll settle for an acknowledgement that Keynesian economics got us out of the last depression, and what it recommends is what's going to get us out of this one, too. And yes, no mention of "free markets" or the like is an absolute must.

I have to admit to some skepticism about MMT. Much of what it says sounds reasonable, but at the end of the day, letting government simply spend whatever it wants with seemingly no restrictions may not be the best idea, either. To me, that's what MMT sounds like so far.

Needless to say, I don't have a doctorate in any form of economics...

Expat said...

MMT was only selected as antithesis of the Chicago School of Theonomic Phrenology. What is being presented as MMT is incomplete which leads to skepticism, as it does not incorporate either taxes nor savings (retained earnings) as part of a comprehensive monetary management of the economy. Nor does it address the flow and management of sovereign funds, hedge funds, and other great accumulations of wealth seeking a return (economic extortion) without involvement in economic production. A complete MMT would also incorporate some form of capital consumption component, capital has become eternal through corporate trusts, that capital needs be used up towards socially acceptable ends while allowing replacement of consumed capital (turnover of capital similar to turnover of stock) since most capital of this kind is the product of monopoly or monopolistic control of markets.

Your point of unrestricted government control of economic power is well taken. It is the reason the quasi-governmental, quasi private Fed was created with such loose tethers. The executive could appoint the chair and the legislature could legislate but neither could directly control its relationship with the Treasury. As most large regional banks are represented either directly in the regional structures or indirectly through those regional structures in the governing board of the Fed, those having the most intimate knowledge of local economic conditions and needs have a direct input into decision making based upon economic facts rather than political ends. This system worked well until it was replaced by apparatchiks of neoliberalism. And then it didn't work. This is what needs looked at and fixed.

Will admit to having no letters after the name but a lifelong curiosity in the world about. The autodidact within speaks. Thanks for the forum and make sure your representatives are well educated and not some slick talking charlatan.