The Motivation And Purpose To Boycott

This commentary is in response to this recently “Freshly Pressed” Post entitled “I May Shop On Thanksgiving.”

I say this respectfully and not with intent to draw ire but just to poke at your logic a bit…the problem is simply “want”. What I mean by that is that we currently live in an economic system in which workers in the jobs you reference are basically compelled to sell their labor to corporations in order to just have the basic means to survival-food, shelter, etc Labor is viewed and treated as a commodity just as a television or an xbox 360. The market is a disciplining force. It is a compelling force. It’s maxim is maximization of profit at whatever cost. And one of those costs is labor. So if every company in these sectors is offering shitty wages for long hours then the fact is workers have no where else to go. If the exploitation existed with just a few companies then those companies would quickly go out of business because no one would want to work under their conditions when they have the freedom to choose better conditions. The problem is there is a monopoly on exploitation in the sectors you reference, and so the conditions are set for the labor market to act as a compelling force. People need to have access to the basic means of survival. This is the reality of wage labor. I mean just think of the immorality inherent in a system in which the often-heard phrase which you used “some people can’t afford the day off, so don’t judge.” Is used to justify this abhorrent relationship between labor and capital which is completely contrived and not at all natural as some people like to think it is. No one, no human being, should have to work in a job that requires them to say “I just can’t afford the day off” cause what that phrase tells you is that they are being compelled to sell their labor power, their blood, their sweat, their tears to a corporation just to have the ability to put food on the table. And that is a big problem. That is a systemic problem. People aren’t hating on the company for being open. They’re hating on the company (technically not just one company but the whole retail sector) for creating an artificial system in which “I just can’t afford the day off or else I won’t be able to pay my bills” is a commonly used phrase by workers who are exploited by these companies. At it’s most basic level, that phrase can be summed up in one word….exploitation. And contrary to what you are saying that hate is very moral. It does signal love and compassion.

“But instead of hating on the company for being open, why not turn your hatred into compassion for the employees that probably are thanking their lucky stars that Kmart is open that day. It’s an extra day they get to work and put food on the table. Instead of being such a jerk, why not drop $5 Starbucks cards off to all the employees, or embrace the needs of fast food workers to work on the holiday by stopping by on your way to your Thanksgiving feast to get a soda and just wish the workers a happy holiday.”

What your describing here is charity. It doesn’t get to the root of the problem which at its core is a systemic problem. It doesn’t help to change the conditions in which these people work. It doesn’t help end the system of exploitation that these workers are forced to suffer under in silence. I mean why do you think fast food workers have been coming out in masse, boycotting their workplaces, and demanding a raise in the minimum wage? The only way they’re going to be able to raise their standard of living is by fighting for it and challenging systems of power. They don’t just want that extra day or that $5 starbucks cards from a customer wishing them happy holidays. That doesn’t change the reality of their lives.  That’s charity. While charity is necessary in a society that contains want and needless suffering and I am by no means denigrating charitable giving and actions, it essentially does nothing to address the fundamental conditions in which that want arises. To fight against these systemic conditions, well that is far more moral and displays far more compassion for the basic dignity of the human worker, then any form of charity ever could, and that is just a fact. The goal is to live in a society in which charity is no longer needed to sustain the basic needs of the population. Just because that goal may be perceived as unreachable or too idealistic by some, does not mean that we do not stop fighting for it. Indeed it would be deeply immoral to do so. What purer form of love could there be?

A lot of people that work on holidays want to. I might go as far as to say that everyone I know of that works on holidays, or have ever talked to working on a holiday, has said that they enjoy it and the extra money, and that they wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. I would go as far as to say that.

So some people want to work on the holidays…that’s fine…no problem with that…but that fact doesn’t really contribute to arguing either for or against the thesis of your post. The people who boycott are not focusing their action on people who want to work for the sake of enjoying the work. Their action is focused on people who are forced to work under a system of exploitation.    Of course people want that extra money.  But they deserve that money and most likely a lot more for the hours of work they are already putting in.  That is the point boycotters are focused on.  And there’s no reason logical way to rationalize labeling them as immoral for that.
“Some people can’t afford to not work on holidays. If you don’t understand that, you have some serious learning to do, and it will be done off your pedestal this time.”

With regard to this statement, again, it’s not that people don’t understand that. It’s that these people understand the inherent immorality of a system in which this phrase is a widespread reality for too many workers across retail and other exploited sectors. There is no moral high horse here, just a cold look at reality. You will not see real and meaningful change unless this “Some people can’t afford to not work on holidays.” becomes obsolete. Not all the people, and I would bet most of the people who disagree with you are not privileged individuals. They hate that this phrase is a reality, their reality.

Of course some people have to work, like in the healthcare sector. I mean it’s common sense to acknowledge that these people can’t take the day off. But retail? I mean why not just make everyone do their shopping for the holidays long before the holidays by mandating these stores close on the holidays. It’s that simple. But of course that doesn’t cross the mind of the corporate execs and higher ups who treat labor as a commodity rather then as a set of human beings who would like to be compensated well for their hard work and not have to worry about the consequences of missing a day of pay to be with their families on the holidays. Again the need to get rid of want comes to the forefront.

A commenter makes a very good point here,

“These openings on Thanksgiving are not to bolster the paycheck of the employee, but the coffers of the corporation.”

You can’t just look at this issue in isolation. Sure the worker is getting an extra paycheck that isn’t worth the blood, sweat, and tears he put into the work to earn that paycheck. And what is the corporation getting? Another day of huge profit margins. There’s nothing moral about that picture, and there’s nothing moral about supporting that picture.

I don’t think you are lacking in compassion. I’m certain you are a very moral person and a very nice person. Nevertheless you are simply failing to see this issue in the context in which it arises and therefore you fail to see this issue in the context I n which it must be eliminated, which will not happen by charity but my prolonged social struggle. That is what some of the commenters here are desperately trying to elucidate.

“Sure companies are greedy and don’t care about their employees, but that is irrelevant to what I am saying.”

This is not irrelevant to what you are saying. Yes companies are greedy. Great concentrations of power tend to abuse that power. The issue is controlling that power. The issue is not just corporations being greedy. They have created a set of artificial conditions in this country which allow them to maximize their power and tools of exploitation to satisfy that greed. You want to eliminate their greed, then you have to eliminate those tools and you have to control that beastly power. That is the context I am talking about. It is not immoral for people to oppose this system via boycott.

Finally, what I think you are really opposing is not the morality of boycott but the tactic of boycott. In this I will concede that I think in order for boycott to be affective both exploited workers and potential consumers have to participate. Together they can work to end this system. But this is a technical issue, not a moral one. Workers used to be a very organized force in this country. They were class conscious and politically active fighting for their rights. This needs to happen again. The latent sense of being fed up with this shit is there. It just needs to be harnessed and organized into a mass social force for change.

And finally the statement,

“I always wanted to work on holidays. I requested to work on holidays. A lot of people that work in retail do.” is not sufficient to make your argument valid. You have to ask what is the reason that people wanted to work on holidays. was it the “want”…was it because they needed access to the basic means of survival. if that is the case, which it tends to be the case, then this desire to work is not a real desire to work for the sake of the joy of the job….it’s a need to work created by the corporation’s exploitation of its workers. if the conditions didn’t exist for this desire to manifest itself, then that would mean that exploitation isn’t taking place…which is a good thing. A better way to phrase it would not be “a desire to work” but rather “feeling that you have to work in order to meet your basic needs”…which not coincendentally is exactly the way the corporation wants you to feel. How else are they gonna compel you to work on Thanksgiving?


I write to dialogue. So please, let's engage each other in some dialogue.

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