Saturday, December 29, 2012

Shopping can kill you

'Tomorrow morning we will release our sales numbers for the month of November. This event is overshadowed by the tragic death of Jdimytai Damour at our Valley Stream, New York, store on November 28....
           - Statement from the President of the Northeast Division, Walmart, USA (December 3, 2008)

One of the tragic features of Jdimytai Damour's death was that he died trying to save two lives.

He was a casual worker at Walmart, earning probably $8 an hour, part of a workforce so casualised they work mostly under 28 hours a week and get no employee benefits. Many of them are on welfare, to top up unsustainably low wages. The day of his death, 28 November, was Black Friday in the USA. It is so named because it is when many shops go into the black for the first time that year, and it is a shopping frenzy of low prices and long hours. 2008 was an especially desperate year, as the financial crisis bit into middle American consumerism. And of course it is ironic that Black Friday comes the day after Thanksgiving. Perhaps we just want more to give thanks for.

On that day Leana Lockley, five months pregnant, lined up with her family members at 1 am, waiting for the store to open at 5. When the doors opened, Leana was picked up in the stampede and carried forward, about to be crushed. The only thing that stood in the way was Jdimytai Damour. Jdimytai was employed that morning to open the doors. A large man, but with no security or defence experience, he tried to keep the crowd away from the fallen Leana. He was pushed to his knees and collapsed over her body, dying as the crowd jostled over him.

Well, don't get me started on Walmart. If Walmart ever comes to my town i will engage in civil disobedience. The Walton family earn more than the entire bottom 40% of Americans. Walmart industrial relations are characterised by barely legal or even illegal terms and conditions, bullying and sexual harassment. The arm of Walmart stretches across the globe. A recent fire in Pakistan was blamed on deadlines set by Walmart for manufacturing. They are also the biggest employer in the USA - a poor lookout for an economy where people are valued more as consumers than as producers. How much can you consume on $8 an hour? This year, on Black Friday, Walmart workers struck. Brave souls.

There have been other Black Friday incidents of human ghastliness. Two shoppers in a Toys R Us actually pulled guns on each other while fighting over a toy. Also in a Toys R Us, a woman cut in line in front of hundreds of other shoppers and threatened to shoot people when they protested. Her comment afterwards was revealing: other people were cutting in, she said, and anyway she had to get that toy for her child because if she came a day later it wouldn't be there. Sounds reasonable, in her head at least.

i could sneer. i could. Except i would do better to remember some of my own actions. Toys do bring out some weird shit in people. We cannot tolerate the notion our child may be disappointed. We fantasise about our child playing for hours with the special toy - and incidentally leaving us alone while they do it. One Christmas i drove to the absolute nether end of town before i finally found what must have been the world's very last Snoozem. And when i began my current job i discovered the wonders of overtime. With one nice fat paycheck from working two statutory holidays i headed to the Boxing Day sales. i was carless at the time, and so i took the bus there and a taxi home with a vacuum cleaner, a stereo, and some other wonderful shit i can't even remember. The Boxing Day sales are our version of Black Friday. Nobody has died as yet, but the shops are open longer than usual and they are very crowded. Some people have their Christmas on Boxing Day, when the presents are cheaper.

So begins the cycle of Grneed. This is my word for the combination of greed and need. Greed begets need. We need to pay off our whopping great mortgage on the gorgeous house we bought when we knew it was at the very edge of our budget, but thought we could manage until someone's hours got cut to half time. Now we wonder if it was worth it, but we're stuck, and with the gorgeous house we also could do with this wonderful dining suite, so off we go again.

i cannot blame Leana Lockley for standing in line at 1 am any more than i can blame Jdimytai Damour for earning $8 an hour. And the bizarre thing about the comment from the woman who threatened to shoot people in order to get a toy, is that it is not so bizarre. It is childish and self centred to say, effectively, 'But I wanted it', but that is what we are taught to say, when we are advertised at thousands of times a day and told only a very limited number of things about our economy and our place in it. More particularly, i cannot expect the North world's more impoverished to take the moral high ground when those who are well educated and purportedly more sphisticated also sleepwalk towards the next piece of material crap. It's just better smelling crap.

Read the quote above from the Walmart president. This person was being disengenuous. Walmarts November profits were not overshadowed by Jdimytai's tragic death. It was business as usual in 2008 and it still is.

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