The Problem with a ‘Defense” of Working on Holidays
It’s worth going back to Matthew Yglesias’ post on working holidays, first because that’s originally what led me to write about the issue, but also because I think it really does display the two sentiments most problematic in the discussion.
First, there’s the idea that holiday-creep is really a non-issue (and the blithe way in which Yglesias arrived at this claim I found to be really bothersome). In other words, don’t focus on Walmart and other companies’ push to make up for soft sales month over month by getting workers and consumers into their stores on Thanksgiving–the real issues remain: health care, housing, employment, wages.
As I said in the original post, but not very well, I don’t think you can successfully decouple the two. Pushing large scale economic reforms (the merits of which I’m not looking to convince anyone of at this time) through Congress requires a lot of energy from the electorate, a coalition of more radical liberals in the House, and a sustained wave of social awareness to keep the focus on them.
Perhaps Yglesias was referring only to the goal of being off on Thanksgiving, and that that as an objective was a waste of time, but I took him as implying that the entire movement as a form of protest was inconsequential and beside the point.
As I tried to better explain in a follow-up comment in Russell’s post,
“My point in the original post, contra Yglesias, and apparently Tod and others, is that while systemic conditions like these require systemic reforms (mandated PTO days, stimulus spending to increase aggregate demand, etc.) those reforms aren’t just magically going to happen–they require organizing, coalition building, campaigning, social movements, etc. So while pushing back against employer mission creep on the holiday front seems on its face to be a distraction, a side-show, my contention is that it necessarily goes hand-in-hand with pushing for these larger, structural changes.”
Part of my argument then is that if you do think there are significant issues facing the working class that need to be addressed, pushing back against individual, perhaps even trivial moves like opening on Thanksgiving is a necessary part of pushing for broader economic reforms. I would very much be interested in interrogating that claim at greater length, but it seems to have been gobbled up in different debate about the particular merits of certain low wage workers getting to have off when they want.
Second was how he framed the post: a “defense” of working on holidays. This seemed to be raising the specter of guilt tripping liberals who end up criticizing those who want to work holidays, and offering a rebuttal on their behalf. But nowhere does Yglesias link to any posts or comments where the workers who want to get an extra day’s pay are the target of liberal ire, nor am I aware of anyone who is calling for the government to mandate people be prohibited from working holidays, whether they want to or not.
In fact, I find the entire spin bizarre. It seems to confuse the particularity of the example, working on Thanksgiving, with the generalized instance of declining worker bargaining power that it represents. The point has never been that people have a right to take off on some arbitrary “holy” day, and only that day, or that the government should force them to, but rather that they should have more power to determine for themselves which days out of the year they do or don’t work (read that last part very carefully before asking me if I think no one should ever have to work on a Monday ever again if they don’t want to).
Finally, a lot of backlash seems to be stemming from the “yes, but what about ME!” instinct. I think it worth noting, first off, that so far in the threads, both in my post, and Russell’s, I have yet to see any strong rebuke of my position from an hourly retail or food service worker, though perhaps I have missed it (there are nearly 500 comments) in which case I will gladly update this post with a direct excerpt of one.
For a number of reasons, I think it’s inappropriate to analogize between highly skilled labor, and highly unskilled labor. That’s not to say that workers of all kinds aren’t deserving of certain basic privileges in return for their labor, only that if you don’t have certain of the benefits bestowed on workers whose labor is “less valued” then yours, make sure first to check whether there isn’t something you voluntarily decided you wanted instead.
Think of the striking teacher who is scorned for being “discontented” with the pay they receive in addition to weeks and weeks of time off, or the BART employee who makes $25 an hour. Is there perhaps a reason why you have chosen not to pursue either of those occupations? If not, perhaps you would like to work toward acquiring either one before advocating their livelihoods be undercut.
This is another way of saying that if you feel the gift of one extra day off per year, with wages paid anyway, is such an undeserved bounty, I can point you in the direction of applications for any number of companies like Gap, Best Buy, and Pizza Hut.