According to the Make Change at WalMart website, a general strike has been planned for ur-shopping day Black Friday this year.
Are we seeing the first tipping of the scales? Will the average, uneducated consumer finally decide to “vote with their dollar” and boycott WalMart simply because shopping there repulses them so much? Because unless they finally choose to shop on quality of products, services, and treatment of their community, nothing is going to change. Let’s even grant them a free pass on the comically poor quality of product you find at WalMart, like the belt I bought there in 2005 that just yesterday broke, as in, the belt literally ripped in two because it was not leather but plastic filled with paper. Further, let’s pretend that WalMart does not demand manufacturers provide them a “shittier but equally labeled” product versus what they ship to competing retailers due to demands of low wholesale prices that manufacturers simply cannot meet. Let’s say the items are just the same.
Given a choice between two equal items at different costs, the average consumer would consider themselves a dang fool to pay extra money if the decision came down to “Corporate Responsibility,” say, the less expensive item, say a bunch of bananas, was packaged by sweat-shop labor, or mashed into the eyes of unwitting animals, or the company chopped down half the Brazilian rain forest (about a Brazillion trees) to plant groves, poisoned the Gulf of Mexico, or some other such externality-based fact. The consumer simply cannot be expected to boycott the lesser product, even if they had that information. After all, they’ve got a cellphone bill to pay and a Democrat in the White House, they can’t afford to pay more. And to be quiet honest, I can sympathize with their choice. The war against unrepentant and unrelenting Capitalism, one that taxes future generations with a deterioration of natural resources, or even collapsed ecosystems and extinction, will not be won, as Zizek proposes, merely by moral imperative. Spoiler on Zizek: It’s the Capitalism, dummy!
Anybody with the slightest comprehension of American History, let alone contemporary global capitalism, will understand that unfettered free market capitalism, the kind outlined by Adam Smith in Wealth of Nations, would have WalMart burying expired, uninsured workers in a mass grave in the Lawn & Garden department were we to give them the opportunity in our society. And just like the aforementioned shopper, blameless for buying a bunch of Colombia-imported bananas with the carbon footprint of a band saw, so too is the CEO or any other decision-making individual member of the mass-murdering hypothetical free market WalMart blameless as well, because the free market demands they systematically weed out unfit workers in order to best compete in a global marketplace. The only economic disincentive that would cause them to reconsider their Lawn & Garden body-dump would be dwindling shelf space for ornamental bark chips. That, or a supply-side contraction of local labor due to, you know, everybody being dead. If Home Depot across the street had a mass grave, how could you blame WalMart for simply trying to remain competitive? And if you find my choice of example in bad taste, know that sometimes employees don’t have to expire on their own for a corporation to deem it necessary to systematically murder them in droves.
While I naively want to see Obama’s recent reelection as a changing of attitude towards rapacious capitalism, I know deep down inside that the corporate overlords that demand deregulation and subsidization of their excess will eventually persevere.
Because if you take away the free pass I afforded consumers in my premise above, if you ask the average consumer to choose between a 99-cent cheeseburger that will give them type 2 diabetes, and a $1.00 cheeseburger that will not, the majority will choose the former. Not because they are stupid and uninformed, but because conventional wisdom dictates that the “game” of shopping is one of scanning a shelf of similar products and showing the mathematical savvy to pick the cheapest one.
After all, if a product was really that bad/bad for you, surely the free market of consumer choice would put them out of business. Right?
Get ready for the first non-union WalMart general strike. I suggest you drive out to your local WalMart to support the strikers. And if this actually has an impact on Black Friday? Bring a change of clothes.
Stay tuned for an official release date of SUPERCENTER.