Wednesday, December 3, 2014

To eat or to work

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope your holiday was pleasant.  For those readers not from America - yes, my readership from Norway continues to surpass the US - we traditionally celebrate Thanksgiving to mark the mythical meal which occurred in the very early days of European settlements in America between the Pilgrims and the Native Americans.  A meal demonstrating that people of different cultures could find reasons to gather, share, and give thanks for the fruits of the land, and family.  I imagine that most countries have some sort of special day to celebrate and give thanks as we do on Thanksgiving.   

Sadly, the day after Thanksgiving in America has also been the starting point for the holiday shopping season, Black Friday, so named because it begins the time of the business cycle when so many companies move out of the red (losing money) and into the black.  Years ago, this shopping season was moved to begin at 6:00 AM, then 4:00 AM, then midnight in the last few years, and finally, recently, some large retailers decided to open on Thanksgiving itself, at 6:00 PM.

That being said, in the past week, just before and right after the holiday, I made a point to comment to family, friends and co-workers how disgusted I was with this newest development.  Most of those who responded did so in agreement.  I only recall one or two people saying that they had shopped that night, although there may have been more who did not want to admit it.  In scanning the news of the retailers reports of their Thanksgiving evening and black Friday shopping numbers, it appears that business was less than expected, in general.  Of course, this could reflect the continuing economic struggles of the average American family, but I would like to think it may also reflect a growing realization that profit is not more important than people, and, perhaps, a groundswell of condemnation that big retailers are taking Americans from their homes to work on the holiday.  Most likely it is a bit of both.

While I am sure that there are those retailers who requested volunteers for Thanksgiving evening before requiring others to work, there are certainly many who scheduled their labor without any give and take as to who might want to work and who might prefer not to.  Also, I would hope that some employers may have paid overtime to some employees, but I suspect that many of those who worked Thanksgiving evening were part time employees who did not warrant holiday pay, and may not have received any additional salary differential. 

Additionally, some smaller retailers who may not have planned to open Thanksgiving evening reportedly felt forced to do so to avoid losing out on the money which was potentially going to be spent.  As many of those smaller retailers represent the small businesses of America, it is a good bet that many did not have the resources to offer additional compensation, perhaps even promising to make it up to those who worked in the future based on sales of the evening, or after the season.

For those who were interviewed at the malls on local news channels either Thanksgiving night or early the next morning, the reason for leaving one's family that night or at 4:00 AM was simple - cheap prices.  The good news is that we all still want to provide our family and friends with thoughtful gifts on Christmas.  No one wants a barren Christmas tree come December 25th.  We are even so generous as to fill those Toys for Tots boxes and Salvation Army kettles in hopes that by sharing a little during the season of giving we might bring a smile to someone in need.

The bad news is that by participating in this rush for everything cheaper we are providing grist for the cheap prices requires cheap labor circle.  As the growth of the Dollar Tree and Bottom Dollar like franchises continues, so too does the prevalence of salaries below $10 per hour.  And, since somewhere between a fourth and a third of all American jobs are at such low pay rates, more people, more households exist at or below poverty levels, and more government assistance is required to feed, clothe and shelter our citizens.  To put it bluntly, every dollar you spend at the lowest priced establishment you can find, is another dollar to an overseas exporter, another dollar to a corporation with zero affinity to America, another dollar on the ever growing pile of dollars being siphoned from the American working family to the coffers of those individuals and corporations that believe in America only so far as their money can buy tax breaks, watered down competition and laws that favor business interests over employee rights.

In the end, what galls me is the lack of outrage by the conservatives who espouse family values in their daily diatribes against gay marriage, welfare programs, school lunch programs, and any government handout that doesn't go to the business community.  Where are they when families are forced to decide between work and celebrating the holiday with their families?  Where are they when the wealthiest in our country decide to spit on the tradition of Thanksgiving by forcing people to choose between work and food?

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