Curtain Raiser

The Black Heart of American Retail, Colltalers

Among the terrible things that have been assailing that now all but unattainable American dream, starvation by retail, by which the industry’s been quickly getting to be known for, is arguably one of the stingiest and most cruel. Specially at this time of the year.
No longer working long and hard hours, in two, sometimes three jobs, with hardly any sleep to reboot and, underneath it all, a growling empty stomach, is enough to sustain oneself, feed the family, and protect the kids, even without getting into health care.
As once again depressing hordes of bargain hunters have trampled each other on Black Friday, in an annual crass display of consumerism, a couple of things became ever clearer across America, none of which is the irony that these ‘little people’ are the ones footing the bill of economic recovery.
What all this rush to mass purchase goods, mainly done by children in China and Bangladesh, have brought to the fore with particular intensity is that many of those standing from dawn to dusk, ready to serve, are depending on social programs and even on the charity of other employees to eat.
Also, that no matter how many piles of low quality inventory they help push out of the stores, their meager salary won’t be compounded by any archaic notion of a merit bonus system, or even a reliable contract that would include benefits. After the sale is over, so will be their extra hours.
But the biggest stain in the labor contract workers have been stuck with in present day U.S. of A. is the staggering, widening, obscenely humongous gap between what the big chiefs of the retail industry are making and what millions of peons who work for them see on their paychecks.
And no other company reflects more acutely such a divide as Wal-Mart, the country’s largest retailer, and the world’s second biggest company, which is still synonymous with the opulence and callous lack of empathy routinely sported by the children and family of its founder.
Even though the Waltons have only one of its own in the board, there should be no doubt about who controls it, and where does such ruthlessness come from. As the industry leader, it sets the tone for all others, including those who go to great lengths to emulate its autocratic business model.
Thus, Thanksgiving or Hanukkah, Christmas or Independence Day, no gods or civility will get in the way of its Juggernaut, and if workers care a bit too much about family life or, heaven forbids, their own health, they can always search for temporary employment at McDonald’s for all it cares.
While family members zip around the globe in private jets, their fortunes among the very top of the heap of the world’s billionaires, even without having worked a day in their lives, Wal-Mart employees, and many American workers, for that matter, have to manage near-slavery conditions.
There’s no exaggeration in using the S word here, and many point to the beginning of the dismantling of the unions, started in the 1960s, as the turning point for today’s normal: workplaces full of near-poverty employees, many already homeless and incapable to provide for their families
Over the weekend, rallies in protest for working conditions at Wal-Mart and other retailers not just failed to land a single headline in the national media, which was expected, but also may have cost yet a few more sub-employed staff their jobs. One only hopes that some lasting impact remains.
The discussion did manage to reach dinner tables, though, as many a Thanksgiving meal served as settings for heated arguments of whose fault it is. That many probably blamed the black man at the White House shouldn’t discourage anyone searching for good news, though. Or some sanity.
While there’s little to do to eviscerate deeply rooted right wing arguments against President Obama, by those who either work the system to their advantage, or others who simply need government aid more than they seem to admit, an important step was taken by certain segments of society.
Even though corporate bosses were quick to call in the cops and hundreds of arrests have been made, for ‘disorderly conduct,’ at least the people who, despite all appeals to the contrary, did go to shop at notorious labor-violator retailers, saw that those being arrested were very much like they.
That’s because what not too long ago was being called ‘the real America,’ and promptly manipulated to serve the political cause of less taxes to the wealthy and less workers in the payroll, is now being pushed to sub-employment in record numbers, that is, if there are even jobs available.
Also that America is now a heterogeneous mix of mostly first generation immigrants, a multiracial array of demographics and accents, which is a far cry from that delusional white, exclusively English-speaking society, that supposedly had the right to rule over so-called minorities.
We couldn’t be further now from that, yes, archaic notion of women as a minority either, which never really made any sense to begin with. More than at any time, the American woman has achieved enormous leverage in political decisions by the sheer weight of their role in the productive scale.
The American society as a whole has only to gain as their power transcends constrains of gender politics, and tackles the great issues of our time, such as labor rights, family planning, defense budget, reproductive laws and all other issues the debate over Obamacare imply.
Their fight is at the core of the protests for decent wages, including raising the minimum, and full, cheap and high-quality health coverage that the Waltons have consistently denied to their workers for over 50 years. If women keep the pressure on, that won’t last for much longer.
So the sight of an elderly woman being arrested and peaceful protesters being handcuffed and taken away on Black Friday, on charges of civil disobedience, are all poignant in the human side, but emblematic within the larger context of Americans finally waking up for social justice.
It’s been all part of a slow learning curve that’s finally started to place value in the worth of the American worker, and the rights that were protected all the way to the last decades of the 20th century, when they were none to subtly yanked out of everybody by the rise of corporate power.
For the same way that women are not going back to the subservient role forced upon them, neither will workers be forced to trade their dignity for leftovers, not if this country still aims at fulfilling the promises of equality and freedom of its constitution. Have a great December. WC


One thought on “Curtain Raiser

  1. WordsFallFromMyEyes says:

    I’ve never liked the sound of Walmart. Actually, for a start, I don’t like huge shopping centres. They are just so excessive to me, I feel out of place. It feels wrong. It doesn’t feel “good, abundant, great, impressive”, it just doesn’t feel good to me.

    Are really some of the employees homeless? My GOD this is DISGUSTING. I could never, never enjoy richness at such expense. It’s disgusting, to me.

    You’re dead right these protests didn’t make the news. I had not heard a THING until I landed here. Arrests, peaceful protests. Such a sad continuing theme.


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