The origin of “Black Friday,” the name given to the Friday immediately following Thanksgiving, has often been thought to be a reference to the first day of the year that retailers can expect to record a profit in their ledgers, or in other words, “be in the black.” In reality, an earlier usage of the term can be traced back to the 1940’s, when The Philadelphia Enquirer noted “Black Friday” was a common term used by local police officers to describe a day marked by endless traffic gridlock, chaos in commercial centers, and a day of grueling labor for retail workers that would often pull them out of their Thanksgiving festivities early to prepare for shopping the next day.
Regardless of the term’s origin, we find its current usage to be a very fitting metaphor: to mark a celebration of the height of consumer capitalism while obscuring the designation of “Black Friday” as a day which used to mean disaster and chaos for working people.
While the overnight campsites have shrunk in size over time and images of early rising shoppers fighting over the last flatscreen on sale have become more scarce, what has not changed is the expectation of retail workers to organize their lives around the demands from their bosses for higher sales and service. According to a UCLA study published this year, 77% of retail workers receive a week or less of notice of their work schedule. If you are like the 50% of retail workers who desire more hours to help pay for college loans or provide for a family, you may not be in a position to decline. Given that the retail industry is the second largest employer in Los Angeles with 140,000 workers, we can expect a large number of Angelenos who may had to cancel Thanksgiving plans a week out.
Imagine then that after you cancel your travel arrangements you are told at the last minute by your manager you don’t have to come in at all. According to the same UCLA study, a majority of retail workers receive last minute shift cancellation from their managers, so many of your neighbors may be experiencing that right now.
We know that workers in the retail industry are not alone in being hard at work during this holiday season, especially in the age of online retail. At the Port of Los Angeles and Long Beach, port truck drivers and warehouse workers have been toiling day in and day out to ensure that the goods coming through these ports — a whopping 40% of the nation’s import traffic — are getting routed to retailers in a timely fashion. They do this in underpaid, hazardous, and racist working conditions despite being one of the most critical components of the United States’ economy. Many of these goods will find their way to Amazon fulfillment centers, where it was reported earlier this year that workers opt to urinate in trash cans because taking a bathroom break may make them miss performance targets. These are just two examples of the lengthy and exhausting hours workers in logistics, service, and hospitality industries are expected to endure during this season.
As socialists as well as Angelenos, we’re deeply concerned with the plight of workers who find living in the city where they work becoming increasingly untenable. This is why DSA-LA decided that our chapter’s priority in 2018 would be to mobilize around Proposition 10, which would have allowed local municipalities to enact rent control measures throughout California. But just making life affordable should not be our only goal. Rather, we should also be looking to the quality of life we are making for ourselves and for our fellow workers. Part of that is taking time to look back at this economic system we all find ourselves in, the inequities it contains, and who gets affected most by that inequity.
The question we should be asking ourselves, Los Angeles, is which of our neighbors make Black Friday possible — and what hell do we allow them to endure in the process?
This holiday season, we in the DSA-LA Labor Committee believe that Black Friday can not only mark the start of the holiday shopping season, but a season where we all consider the profound brutality that capitalism visits upon our fellow Angelenos. Our hearts are with our fellow workers in retail who will be rising early today and dealing with consumer chaos all season. Our hearts are also with every port truck driver, warehouse worker, hotel worker, restaurant staff in the front and back of the house, and all workers who will play critical roles this holiday season, and by virtue of this economy, will not be compensated nearly enough for it.
With our hearts, however, we also pledge our solidarity. The DSA-LA Labor Committee will not sit idly back and offer well wishes to our fellow workers, but will stand alongside them in the struggles to come. We are prepared to fight for better wages in Los Angeles and all nearby municipalities. We are prepared to fight for better scheduling regulations to ensure a better quality of life for retail workers. We will work with those who wish to organize, and will stand in strike solidarity with those who already are.
This holiday season, let’s commit to creating a city that can offer a fulfilling life to anyone who works in it. If you are ready to be part of that, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Working together, another Los Angeles is possible.
The DSA-LA Labor Committee