Black Friday: Why not shop until you drop?

Are you not amazed at the Black Friday mobs of anxious, competitive, occasionally even violent shoppers rushing to crowd into the discount stores the day after Thanksgiving? It seems to me they’ve got more anger than cash, more vulnerability than good sense. Maybe we should take a closer look.

What’s going on here? First, let’s remember how those cheap goods came to us. Since the 1970s, the corporations have used technology to remove jobs from the American labor pool. Then they took many manufacturing jobs to Asia to avoid having to pay the wages negotiated by knowledgeable, organized American employees.

The next step was to pack up all those cheap, consumer goods and ship them back from Asia to America. After all, Americans will buy anything, right? And sure enough, a little promotion of shopping mania, and we’re all rushing to get the cheapest price on whatever it is we’re told we need.

What’s wrong here is that those same corporations have been stagnating our wages and salaries for nearly 50 years. That, and cheap foreign labor, have turned the so-called “American Dream” of “getting ahead” into a nightmare of scarcity – not of goods or choices, but of cash to pay for them. And the discounters are getting wealthier faster than ever as we snap up everything they offer.

The result is that Mr. and Mrs. America aren’t choosing to go to the discount store just to find a bargain. Their ability to hold the family finances together depends on being able to buy everything cheap.

It’s no longer a matter of squirreling a few bucks away for a rainy day – it’s the only way to make ends meet. And most of our purchases, even of cheap, Asian goods, are paid for with our credit cards. Now we’re laboring under a mountain of debt. So the banks are happier and wealthier too, while the rest of us are hurting.

No wonder shoppers are ready to punch someone. It’s not about the little geegaws they want to buy little Susie and Johnny – it’s about trying to survive.

So, the reality of Black Friday is that every time we shop at discount stores like Walmart, Best Buy and Target, and especially during the big promotions like Black Friday, we’re just contributing to our own demise as workers and families.

What’s the answer? Obviously, we need stuff to live: food, furnishings, electronics and geegaws. And let’s not forget our desire for all those things has been heavily stoked by advertising telling us to buy much more than we need. But are we stuck?

Not if we get our minds around what’s happening to our families and why we’re in the financial fix that makes us so vulnerable. We also need to think about the fact that all of the stuff we buy has cost us our jobs – as we shop, we’re making ourselves poorer while the corporations and the banks are getting richer. Yes, as consumers, we play a part in causing the economic inequality we’re experiencing.

We can get off the slide to poverty with five choices: 1) refuse to buy all that cheap stuff they’ve manufactured in low-wage countries; 2) give ourselves permission to ignore corporate and media advertising, and buy only what we really need; 3) ignore the corporate stores and buy from locally-owned small businesses; 4) pay cash and forget the credit cards.

Then the big one: get ourselves together as employees to demand the prioritizing of economic justice instead of profits, putting our citizens ahead of shareholders and banks.

It takes some knowledge, a little self-sacrifice, a bit of self-discipline. But we can prevent another 50 million workers from sliding into poverty. That’s worth doing, and it’s better than punching someone out because we feel frustrated and helpless.

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