I have to admit that I’ve never quite understood the whole Black Friday craze. Waiting for hours in the cold to buy a discounted DVD player has never seemed much of an appeal to me, and I always find myself deeply disturbed at the scenes of mayhem that inevitably seem to follow. Morally, I find it problematic that when so many people are really hurting financially, we are all being encouraged to spend in order to stimulate the economy. I’m sure some economist could explain it to me, but when jobs are scarce and unemployment is on the rise, it seems most prudent this Thanksgiving to put that Black Friday money into a rainy day fund.
This year’s Black Friday is even more morally problematic. In order to increase profits, stores are opening on Thanksgiving afternoon or at midnight that day, cutting into the time that workers get to spend with their families. Walmart is opening at 10 p.m., the earliest it has ever opened, requiring employees to come in by 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. Workers at Best Buy and Target are protesting this infringement of their rights and dignity as workers. The petition against Best Buy, which has generated more than 8000 signatures, puts it well:
“A full holiday with family is not just for the elite of this nation — all Americans should be able to break bread with loved ones and get a good night’s rest on Thanksgiving!”
Target employee Anthony Hardwick has created an online petition which has generated over 37000 signatures on the website Change.org. However, he now fears losing his job in this tough economy after drawing media attention to Target’s actions: “I was so disappointed the day I found out about this because I did the math in my head and I was going to have to go to bed in the early afternoon on Thanksgiving to go in and work 10 hours,” Hardwick said in a telephone interview. “Everyone at work was resigned because the economy is bad and so our employer has us over a barrel.”
A key principle of Catholic Social Teaching is the dignity and rights of workers, which includes not only the right to a job, a fair wage, and safe working conditions, but also the rest and leisure necessary to flourish as human beings. It is unjust to make workers sacrifice their holiday in order to meet consumer demand. However, I hesitate to reserve blame only to Target and Best Buy as corporations. All of us as consumers have contributed to this “social sin.” It is our own desires and buying habits that have created this system of injustice. As the Occupy Wall Street movement has turned our attention to corporate activity, this Thanksgiving, I think we all need to reexamine our own consumer desires and Black Friday traditions. As for me and my house, we are staying home.