A new holiday tradition: workers' rights

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The holiday season has officially started, and if you're any kind of American, you know what that means. Hordes of wild-eyed shoppers have descended upon us.

If early morning stampedes at chain retailers and other hallmarks of the Black Friday phenomenon seem like a peculiar tradition, recent offshoots of the trend may prove even more bizarre. One is business' attempt to claim other Thanksgiving week calendar slots as holiday-shopping bonanzas in their own right. Cyber Monday is the busiest online shopping day of the year, we're told, while a growing number of intrepid early-birds skipped out on Turkey Day altogether to go bargain hunting on the woefully titled "Brown Thursday."

Then there are the growing ranks of cynics who've found creative ways to critique in-your-face consumerism as a cultural deficiency, a sort of anti-Black Friday tradition. There's Buy Nothing Day, an alt standby appealing to the conscience of the thoughtful consumer.

The web-based Black Friday Death Count (www.blackfridaydeathcount.com), documenting six years of violent incidents stemming from holiday shopping frenzies, reads like a stark condemnation of petty greed. Viral YouTube videos of squabbling gift buyers, meanwhile, suggest that a mass audience of Internet viewers is reaching for the popcorn and taking it all in, perhaps with the glee of blood-sport spectators.

Yet a different aspect of Black Friday 2013 deserves a second look. This year, low-wage employees who generally make Black Friday profits possible got louder in their demands for better working conditions.

Look at Walmart. It's the nation's largest employer, but its employees earn notoriously low wages — a fact highlighted by Black Friday protests staged outside Walmart stores nationwide, including in the Bay Area. For low-wage retail workers who can barely make ends meet let alone leave gift-wrapped digital devices under the tree, momentum seems to be building. The National Labor Relations Board recently announced its intention to pursue complaints against Walmart for illegally threatening and firing employees who participated in last year's Black Friday protests.

Further up the supply chain, the Port of Oakland saw a work stoppage from a group of truckers last week who have fallen into dire straits financially. Classified as owner-operators instead of employees and therefore unable to unionize, many face potential job loss because they can't afford engine retrofits needed to comply with new environmental regulations. The timing of their quasi-strike, just as container ships were coming into port with cargo destined for Black Friday sales shelves, was no coincidence.

All of which begs the question: If Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Buy Nothing Day can all be incorporated as modern American traditions that directly follow Thanksgiving, why not claim a slice of the pie as well for workers putting themselves at risk in the name of better conditions? If these struggles are effective, it will be one more thing to give thanks for.

 

Comments

That is why we have huge immigration, both legal and illegal, for those "low" wage jobs.

It is why the US continues to outsource jobs to cheaper nations.

And it is why the US dollar is declining.

The problem is not that we pay ourselves too little. It is that we pay ourselves too much.

And for all your criticisms of WalMart, we the people love their stores and, in particular, their low prices.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 03, 2013 @ 4:54 pm

No one's stopping you from taking a pay cut, bitch.

Or merely donating your time. Assuming an employer could be that stupid to hire some ignoramus like you. But of course in your mind YOU aren't overpaid.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 03, 2013 @ 6:21 pm

It's not something that varies by person. The market is quite efficient at paying the right level of pay, except in bloated, unionized shops anyway.

But since there is someone overseas who can do all ours jobs much more cheaply, we are all overpaid to that extent.

As the dollar gradually declines, that will be remedied, but not before many more American jobs will be lost due to imports, immigration and outsourcing.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 03, 2013 @ 6:35 pm

Regarding international workers' salary:

Here is the most recent list I could find:

The top ten (highest paid):

1. Switzerland
2. Germany
3. Denmark
4. Japan
5. Norway
6. Austria
7. Belgium
8. Ireland
9. Netherlands
10. United Kingdom

United States is number 15th.

As of 6 years ago (and it's only gotten worse since):
search engine: U.S. Falls to No. 15 in Average Worker Income
That ranking would surprise most USans, who likely and ignorantly consider their nation the most prosperous in the world.

I've never been in a Walmart because I don't shop in any corporate box stores which largely sell junk made in China often made with child labor. That's disgusting. Then of course there's the labour problems at Walmart. No thank you. People with no standards or ethics would have no problem with any of it though.

Posted by Hyacinth Bouquét on Dec. 03, 2013 @ 5:52 pm

of tax. It would be a better comparison to show after-tax pay.

But sure, the US may not have the highest rates of pay, but #15 out of over 200 nations means that we are still overpaid, which is why we see so much importing, immigration and outsourcing.

Your last para is priceless. Anyone who disagrees with you about WalMart has "no standard or ethics". You really have an inflated sense of yourself, don't you? Since when is all morality derived from your very specific values?

Posted by Guest on Dec. 03, 2013 @ 5:59 pm

This is for the benefit of other people (and not you):

Immigration to the US is down. And undocumented immigration has slowed to almost a standstill. (Look it up).

But I see why you are a troll. Being ignorant in the #1 requirement for being a troll....always has been.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 03, 2013 @ 6:27 pm

speculation is correct? You just said those immigrants are "undocumented", so how do you know how many there are, and the rate at which they are increasing or decreasing?

I would agree that immigration from Europe has slowed right down. Their pay rates are as bad as ours, and worse in some cases.

But immigration from the third world continues at a rapid pace. That job paying $10 an hour here pays ten cents an hour in much of Asia, Africa and South America.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 03, 2013 @ 6:37 pm

I have been researching this subject for a few days now for a report I am writing.

Posted by watchrew on Mar. 10, 2014 @ 12:18 am

I have been researching this subject for a few days now for a report I am writing.

Posted by watchrew on Mar. 10, 2014 @ 12:18 am

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