Retailers who spit in the eye of families this Thanksgiving have been waging a bigger war against workers for much longer than just this holiday season.
Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy, Kmart, Macy's, Michael's, Kohl's, J.C. Penney, Toys R Us and many shopping malls will open as early as 6 p.m. Thursday. I'll bet many more follow suit next year as retailers try to get a jump on the competition during this critical sales period.
Some of us remember when Macy's was known for a parade on Thanksgiving rather than asking its employees to ditch their families on a national holiday to stand behind a register all night. My mother has worked in retail for more than a decade, since before Federated Department Stores bought the May Company and the Red Apple Sales of Foley's became the One Day Sales of Macy's. She has worked every Black Friday, of course, despite long hours of Sultan family gluttony and shenanigans the day before.
She said she was spared the Thanksgiving shift because many seasonal, part-time and younger workers volunteered for the overtime work.
At least on Thanksgiving, many of these workers will earn a living wage.
There are low-wage workers in other industries who have always had to work on Thanksgiving. If you fill up your car at a gas station, grab a prescription at a drug store or watch a movie at the theater, someone is at the register to take care of business.
It's easier to get upset about an assault on what has become a symbol of The Family Meal than the larger issue of what happens to families the remaining 364 days of the year.
Consider the Canton, Ohio Wal-Mart holding a food drive among its low-wage workers for their even worse-off co-workers.
"Please donate food items here so associates in need can enjoy Thanksgiving dinner," read a sign next to several bins set out for donations.
Wal-Mart's CEO, Mike Duke, makes $20.7 million a year while many of his workers rely on government subsidies -- provided by taxpayers by way of programs such as food stamps and Medicaid -- because it's nearly impossible for a family to meet its basic needs on the money from a full-time, minimum-wage job.
If this doesn't strike us as a broken model, then shame on us.
It's disingenuous to blame consumers for taking extreme measures to find a deal (after all, the stores wouldn't open if no one shopped that day, one line of justification goes) when it's harder to afford to buy goods for so many working families.
"... Corporate America as a whole has been so successful in squeezing the labor share of national income lower and lower that it's become a substantial constraint to businesses' ability to sell things to people," writes Matthew Yglesias, business and economics writer for Slate.
Shoppers willing to line up outside a big-box retailer at midnight are not to blame because they want (or need) to stay within a budget during the holidays.
Put the blame where it belongs: on our modern-day Scrooges, the top-level executives, the board members who reward themselves and their ilk with million-dollar bonuses, whose salaries are more than 300 times the average worker's. The ones who have seen their real income skyrocket while the rest of us have seen wages flatten or decline for years. And on the tight concentration of enormous wealth at the very top levels of income.
Today's Ebenezers could care less about holidays past, present or future. How many would be willing to do the work of one of their low-wage employees for one week and see how far that weekly pay stretches?
Let's remember this holiday season as the one when corporate America dropped the charade and proudly declared that profits trump family.