Next Black Friday, think of the workers

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.

Each year, on the fourth Thursday of November, American families come together to celebrate the colonial holiday of Thanksgiving — COVID-19 aside. Beyond the atrocious history of this day, the actual holiday is, theoretically, one of the most wholesome. You sit around the table with your family and friends, some of whom you may not have seen in a while, and share a meal. No presents, no difficult rituals — other than cooking a turkey. Just family, football and food.

Unfortunately, capitalism has reared its ugly head over the years through a bastardization of the spirit of giving, antithetical to the tenets of the holiday through Black Friday.

The theory of Black Friday is relatively simple. After Thanksgiving is over, folks naturally start thinking of the next big event: the doozy that is Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa. And, instinctively, people begin shopping for all the gifts they have to give their friends and family. Big box stores noticed this product of human anxiety and thought of an easy solution — just have the largest sales of the year when individuals first start thinking about these holidays. They slashed rates on the fourth Friday of November, offering ridiculously low prices on electronics, clothes and everything in between.

Now, this led to two major issues. First, Black Friday started creeping closer to Thanksgiving. Originally, retailers had an unwritten rule that prevented them from advertising holiday sales and products before Thanksgiving was over. But as time went on, the profit mindset took over. Stores started pushing the start time of their sales earlier and earlier, from normal opening hours on Friday to early in the morning all the way to Thursday evening. Thus, the immorality of capitalism was able to start taking over a perfectly lovely holiday.

Unfortunately, this compounds with the more significant issue behind Black Friday: its effect on workers. It’s reasonable enough for an individual who wants to go shopping instead of spending time with family to do so. However, in aggregate, those individuals begin to impose their will on the employees who are forced to staff those stores. Most employees at major retailers aren’t likely willing to sacrifice their personal Thanksgivings for the sake of work. However, if you are economically vulnerable, and you either need the income from that day or are afraid of losing your job if you refuse to clock in, you may find yourself in an impossible situation. 

Black Friday workers are often compelled to work 10 to 15-hour days, as stores try to cater even more to the overambitious shopper. These are some of the hardest hours employees will work in a year, too. By mandating this, corporations rip employees away from their families and force them to deal with the overaggressive hordes waiting at the door. 

Profit-hungry companies constantly seek to exploit their workers for a little extra cash, from only paying the minimum wage to dangerous working conditions and illegal union busting. But it feels particularly cruel for companies to force poorer Americans to sacrifice a day all about family to make them a little more money.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown there is a better way to do this. 

This year, with the pandemic still ravaging communities around the country, consumers for the most part took a different approach. Since most people don’t want to be stuck in a crowd of strangers when facing a deadly viral disease, many turned to online shopping, leaving those stores traditionally overrun with near-rioters almost empty.

This is the simplest design to respect employees’ basic dignity. Instead of any in-person deals, have all sales be fully online. Give workers both Thursday and Friday off with paid leave, and reopen stores on Saturday, or whenever they traditionally would be open. Pause fulfillment of orders until after the holiday. It will take a little while longer for customers to get their orders, but if you think it’s more important for your discounted toaster to be delivered on Nov. 29 than for folks to see their families, I have little hope for you.

Thanksgiving is a very cute holiday. It lets people connect with their families and take a moment to appreciate what they have. There’s no reason to poison it with doorbusters and unethical labor practices.

Jake Foley-Keene is a junior government and politics major. He can be reached at jakefoleykeene@gmail.com. 

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