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November 23, 2012

Failure of the American conscience: Walmart reports record Black Friday sales despite 100-city worker strike

Posted in: Economy

So, what does this say about the American people, the brain-dead consumers addicted to a one-day extreme low price tag, mass-marketed pimped into herd behavior as workers toil for low wages, little opportunity for advancement, and hours kept low to ensure no access to health care while the Walton family rakes in billions?

I guess we have the answer — even from those who should care — as the big box retailer had nothing to fear as workers and supporters picketed outside many Walmarts today. This is depressing.

“Walmart cuts hours and benefits to push people out,” said Tammy [who toiled for 12 years as a Walgreens cashier], using her phone to capture video of the protest. “It’s the same thing at Walgreens. The workers are suffering while billionaires make all the money.”

But despite her professed anger at corporate greed, Tammy — who declined to provide her last name lest she jeopardize her job — was not deterred from entering Walmart to purchase a TV on a layaway plan. Her own low wages made her feel a sense of community with the striking Walmart workers, but those same wages also generated pressure to find and buy goods at low prices — precisely the demand that Walmart has fed to turn itself into the world’s largest retailer.

“You gotta go where the sales are,” Tammy said. “Today at Walgreens every toy was half off. I had to work a 12-hour shift, and they didn’t pay me enough. But I can’t tell shoppers, ‘Don’t come in.’ I’d lose my job.”

The company has posted record Black Friday sales.

Today, Walmart U.S. reported its best ever Black Friday events. The retailer saw larger crowds than last year and a huge response to its first ever one-hour guarantee on key electronic items.

“I’m so proud of what our more than 1.3 million associates have done to prepare and execute our Black Friday plans, giving our customers a great start to their Christmas shopping season,” said Bill Simon, Walmart U.S. president and chief executive officer. “The work of our associates is even more impressive when you consider they served approximately 22 million customers on Thursday.”

Walmart’s Black Friday plan included three events this year at 8 p.m., 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. During the high traffic period from 8 p.m. through midnight, Walmart processed nearly 10 million register transactions and almost 5,000 items per second.

About Walmart Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE: WMT) helps people around the world save money and live better – anytime and anywhere – in retail stores, online, and through their mobile devices.  Each week, more than 200 million customers and members visit our 10,400 stores under 69 banners in 27 countries and e-commerce websites in 10 countries. With fiscal year 2012 sales of approximately $444 billion, Walmart employs more than 2.2 million associates worldwide. Walmart continues to be a leader in sustainability, corporate philanthropy and employment opportunity.

Some economic opportunity. Surely the Walgreens worker who insisted on crossing the line to put a TV on layaway is well aware that those workers putting themselves on the line face retaliation from Walmart, who knows it can replace any low-paid worker with someone who’s out of work, desperate for a job:

So whether you believe the big box giant’s spinning preliminary sales figures, Walmart surely benefits from empathy-free shoppers like the ones in this video below, crushing one another over a cell-phone sale. As Mediate notes, you can audibly hear someone in the crowd scream “Stop! There’s an old woman here!” but the melee continued.

UPDATE: This apathy has, sadly, occurred and will occur again; it can only be stopped with persistence at a magnitude that cuts through the spin and inertia. A Facebook friend of mine, NC pol Dan Besse, placed this consumer behavior in an interesting and familiar context.

It’s the inevitable math of boycotts. Take the Chic-fil-a deal. They didn’t need the support of most people to make big bucks. They only needed the enthusiasm of a biased minority. It would have taken the active support of an overwhelming supermajority of the public to make a real dent in the Wal-mart numbers. That’s an extremely difficult challenge, especially when a large number of the shoppers you’d need to reach are not tracking progressive political commentary to start with.
Chick-fil-a didn’t break a $weat because too many Americans didn’t give a crap that the company donated over $5 million to anti-gay organizations that believe in ex-gay therapy and that homosexuality is connected to pedophilia. With the public exposed to ample (and distorted) coverage of this by the mainstream media, which spun it as a free speech matter that its CFO Dan Cathy simply didn’t agree with marriage equality, “Christians” poured through the doors in support of Chick-fil-a, but, most important, average Americans continued to patronize the chicken sandwich chain because they just couldn’t do without the fast food bird sandwich and waffle fries.
The LGBT community, like the Walmart workers, are left disappointed by the fact that most people just don’t give a damn — the “noise” in that case wasn’t going to interrupt their lunch. Even when the facts about the situation were available to anyone capable of Googling.
  • Chick-fil-A has given at least $5 million to anti-gay organizations, including known hate groups and proponents of ex-gay therapy, since 2003, including almost $2 million in both 2009 and 2010.
  • Chick-fil-A has a 0 rating on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, which signifies that the company does not offer one protection, one benefit, or even one diversity training for its LGBT employees.
  • Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy openly admitted that he would probably fire any employee who “has been sinful or done something harmful to their family members.”
  • It has recently come to light (thanks to Jeremy Hooper) that current Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy has used the following language to describe supporters of same-sex marriage:
    • “We are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say ‘we know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.”
    • “I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.”
    • “We see all the twisted up kind of stuff that’s going on. Washington trying to redefine the definition of marriage and all the other kinds of things.”
    • “We are suffering the consequences of a society and culture who has not acknowledged God or not thanked God—he’s left us to a deprived mind. It’s tragic and we live in a culture of that today.”

Asking the masses to pay attention to, let alone address certain social justice issues by interrupting their routines and proclivities in any way, even a minor one, is sadly difficult. Not impossible, but even in this interconnected world, people see what they want to see to justify turning a blind eye to all sorts of things.

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