As a consumer, I hate Black Friday. Hate the crowds, hate the chaos, hate the lines, hate everything about it. As a commissioned retail employee though, I loved Black Friday.
Sure, the only time I got food between 6am and 3pm may have been a few bites stolen here and there while hunting for product in the stockroom, and sure, it kind of sucked to have to head to bed early the night before, but Black Friday is called that for a reason.
Black Friday is the day that after scrimping and saving through the tough summer season, you finally start making real money.
Every retail employee who works on commission needs Black Friday. Employees volunteer for the opening shift because that’s the one that brings in the most sales. You bank on Black Friday to have the money to make it through the holiday season yourself, and to be able to pay for those big ticket items that you’ve been putting off during the lean months.
When I see people, usually well-meaning liberals, suggesting a Black Friday boycott as a way to help the workers, in my charitable moments I shake my head at their ignorance. When I’m feeling less-than-charitable though, it makes me mad. It’s people who have never worked retail a day in their lives, who haven’t a clue about what retail workers actually experience, and what issues really matter, deciding to take money out of those workers’ pockets because it will make them feel good about themselves and sticking it to the man.
If you want to boycott Walmart, Target, or Toys R Us, go ahead and be my guest, their employees aren’t getting anything out of having to work ridiculous Black Friday hours. But when you stay away from the mall out of a misguided sense of helping, don’t pat yourselves on the back.
Your little statement means less money for that beleaguered shoe salesman to buy shoes for his own kids, or takes away the money that the first generation college kid is planning to use to buy her books for the next semester, or that the grandmother in housewares was going to use to visit her grand kids. The very working class people you want to help are the ones who are getting screwed over by your meaningless anti-corporatist statement.
If you care about the workers, you’ll think twice before doing a boycott that hits at those very workers’ livelihoods. When I was working in retail, I didn’t care about the symbolic meaning of people’s boycotts, I cared about what those boycotts would do to my paycheck. If your symbolism hurts my ability to pay bills, it’s not only meaningless, it’s actively harmful.
Find some other way to protest consumerism and corporatism that doesn’t screw over the working class.