Our commenter Murc asked me to write a post on Black Friday and how it is unfair to workers. Since he felt so strongly about it, I said he should write it instead. Here it is:
So. Black Friday. It’s upon us. The highest holy day of our national consumer religion, and the ratchet that turns one notch tighter on the workers who make it possible every year.
Of course, it isn’t really about the Friday in question anymore and hasn’t been for some time. It’s about the Thursday before Black Friday, which has been colonized by the day following it in the same way a fungus colonizes and enslaves ants.
Let’s check out this years murderers row of “opening on Thanksgiving” hours among major retailers. It’s basically the same as the year prior, but with some real fun changes:
Walmart: 6.00 PM
Target: 6.00 PM
Sears: 6.00 PM
Best Buy: 5.00 PM
Toys R’ Us: 5.00 PM
Macy’s: 5.00 PM
JC Penney: 2.00 PM
Now, last year our winner in this particular ghoulish sweepstakes was Penneys, with that then-jaw dropping two in the afternoon opening time.
This year, K-Mart looked at that and said “hold my beer.”
K-Mart will be opening at six in the morning on Thanksgiving day. Yes, not P.M, but A.M. They’ll be open all day and into the night, and then open again at six in the morning on Black Friday proper.
They say the saddest place in the world to be is the buffet at Caesar’s Palace at one a.m Christmas morning. I would submit that the layaway counter in a K-Mart at six a.m on Thanksgiving Day is competitive.
The silver medal winner has got to be Dollar General; they’ll be opening at seven a.m and staying open all day. That’s some synergistic planning right there; people who can’t afford to take a day off will show up to run their Dollar Generals in order to sell things to people who have been so beaten down they can’t afford to shop anywhere else but a Dollar General.
So what does this mean for workers?
Many of these stores will require their workers to stay late on Wednesday in order to get their plan-o-grams set up for the oncoming weekend, which will have special displays. Many stores will also use this as an opportunity to get their final Christmas season layouts in place. Re-doing a store has to be done on the regular and is drudgery enough when you’re not doing it last thing Wednesday evening prior to coming in and working on Thanksgiving.
Those selfsame workers will need to arrive an hour early or so to set up on Thursday, of course. So add about an hour to all of the times listed above; people will be rolling up to K-Mart at five in the morning to get it all ready to go.
Now, there is one bright spot; many of these stores used to stay open all night Thursday and then all day Friday. However, the majority have shifted to closing for at least a few hours Thursday night before re-opening. Wal-Mart is going the distance, of course, but Macy’s and Best Buy and Target et. al. have backed off from that.
(Although that allows them to do things like schedule someone from five to one on Thanksgiving day, and then call them back in at six on Friday for another eight-hour shift.)
This is a direct outgrowth of the decimation of unions across the country, and of our unraveling social contract as a whole. Industries that remain strongly unionized have workers that will be staying home with their families, where they belong, on Thanksgiving. They’ll often have Black Friday off as well. (In an ironic twist of fate, their union wages likely give them the disposable income to go out and shop both days.) White-collar workers have one or both days off as well. But it once would have been unthinkable to make even non-unionized workers show up on Thanksgiving. People would have been appalled. Not so much anymore.
Many grocery stores are open extended hours on Thanksgiving. And again; grocery stores used to be hugely unionized. Now the actual on-the-ground labor is an army of part-time teenagers and the elderly, and who the fuck cares about them, am I right? So Meijers or Wegmans or your regional equivalent can be open on Thanksgiving day, so their middle-class patrons can pop right in and pick up something they forgot for the dinners the person checking them out won’t be able to enjoy themselves. How convenient!
The worst part of all this, tho, the very worst, is the way it turns our own giving nature against us.
Times are tough for a lot of people, but they still want to have some nice things, or more importantly buy nice things for their loved ones. The people who are lining up at these stores and thereby validating the decision to be open on Thanksgiving are not, in most cases, bad people. They’re people who want to buy their children and siblings and parents, who they care about deeply, the gifts they feel those folks deserve. But their pocketbooks require insane doorbuster savings to make that possible. Some of the people you’ll see trampling each other in the inevitable “riot at a Wal-Mart” videos are just asshole skinflints, of course, but most are not.
They’re just driven to do things like pervert their entire day around these sales, even if they themselves have the day off, and that’s just terrible.
This Thanksgiving bullshit is vile, and it’s anti-worker. No, more than that; it’s anti-people. And folks need to know that, and fight against the notion that this is all okay and normal.