Everything Old is New Again, Part 1

As the Pilgrims predated the Founding Fathers, so did the consumer precede the occupier.

Daniel Church interviews the first occupiers : those who camp out to score 20-30% off and grab BOGO deals on Black Friday. Church gets up close and personal, asking these loyal American consumers how – and why - they dedicate their time and effort to securing such bargains. A topic worthy of exploration. Counterpunch

Thanksgiving is about gratitude - appreciation for the simple things. Americans awake from the stupor of tryptophan hangovers with pronounced consumer cravings. The ritual is decades old, purchased with the hard-earned credit granted by the enormous sacrifices made by the World War II generation. Feeling grateful? Thank a World War Two Vet. The ones still among us who did not die with 120,000 others on Normandy's beaches or among the other 400 some thousand casualties in the most violent conflict in human history.

At the same time, speeding toward the ominously awaited apocalypse allegedly foreseen by the Mayan calendar, Americans return to their democratic roots. Occupy Sandy directing relief efforts and striking Wal-Mart Workers signify the same thing : a disturbing trend for investors.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, Wal-Mart encourages its workers to shut up and do their job – and thank their bosses. Instead, they request recognition.

A note to Wal-Mart Workers, you are the unseen, the taken for granted. There may be lots of reasons you work there. In this economy, you took whatever work you could. But now you don't wish to forfeit your dignity any more.

The company itself may value you more dead than alive. The fact is you stand up and represent. You tell the world you won't stay silent. Americans may wonder : why stare down the face of the US corporate machine, in spite of daily reminders and threats that you're replaceable. What kind of courage does it take to risk the wrath of the nation's wealthiest corporation, the very epitome of the pyramid economy – and do it right in front of them? Lots, it turns out. Gather

It's Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, and maybe you had to work that day too. You spent time with family and friends, and it was probably limited. If you worked, you didn't get holiday or overtime pay, either, which is what you would need to even come close to paying this month's bills. huffpost

The company – and its high-priced attorneys – have used and will use (after the cameras and the reporters go away) numerous tactics on you. These are known, semi-euphemistically, as “aggressive labor practices” but they amount to worker search and destroy missions.

They will do all this with the benign smile their high-priced PR teams present to the rest of the world, and then claim you can't think for yourself, that you're the victim of an outside conspiracy, and that you could not be happier with the conditions that you work under.

All the while, you're told you are nothing, by the company, by society, by the advertisements that feature people who make more than you, spend more than you, and may never visit your store at all. In one last humiliation, in public, during a Presidential election, in front of the entire nation, you're insulted. They call you a moocher and a taker.

You fly in the face of all conventional political wisdom. You're living proof that you don't need a boat load of cash to change things, just courage. You signify that the old world of compliance, and silence, is gone.

You stand up, with the other moochers and takers, whether you work in a climate controlled big box retailer, or live in a public housing project where you barely get by. Either way, you stand up, you represent. dnainfo

For one day, you are out from behind the counter, you are not invisible. Instead, you walk tall, reminding Americans that you help make it all work, that you count, that you matter. For the first time, you have a name, you have a face. And that you will no longer be taken for granted. Walmartat50.org

Hate the Game not the Player Or... Just Blame the Worker

For the Lords of Finance, nothing portends the impending apocalypse so much as the 2012 revolt of the Moochers and Takers.

Having developed extensive networks and an adroit nimbleness thanks to NYPD oppression, Occupy Sandy is able to mobilize and organize a massive relief and recovery effort. It results in a slew of suddenly positive articles about OWS, who head into the 2012 home stretch on as high a note as the low one the year began with. This in less than 10 months. Establishment media are stupefied by the so-called resurrection. wnyc

Moochers and takers began as a desperate ploy to appeal to Americans basest fears and instincts. A redux of Ronald Reagan's fictional welfare queen, it resonates well with those at the tip top of the pyramid. They got there by hard work and their own brilliance. Anyone not there with them didn't work as hard and must not be as smart.

Or else you just don't play the game as well as they do. Maybe you got pregnant and raised a child, or suffered an accident, or got sick, or took care of a elderly person or parent. Either way : if you do not have enough disposable income to support US consumer spending, then congratulations, you're a moocher!

It's a neat psychological justification for a economy increasingly split between haves and have nots.

By contrast, Occupy Sandy reinforces the notion of mutual assistance. On Thanksgiving day they come through big-time, delivering 10,000 Turkeys to New Yorkers in need. Occupy was always based on mutual aid, one organizer says. The Establishment never quite got it, and now they again race to catch up. The old ponderous questions - what's your plan? how will you achieve political power? - disappear during a full-blown crisis replete with human suffering.

Assistance to Sandy victims mimics the previous encampment policy of accepting the homeless and excluding no one – especially the least among us. What was originally seen as a curious footnote, is in fact the movement's essence. truthout

Whether it's called mutual aid, collectivism, or simple collaboration it's a foreign concept to Mid Town Media, dutifully trained to desperately seeking access to the world of the haves, and forego consideration of the have nots.

As such, when New Yorkers take time from their “busy lives” to cross the narrows and aid neighbors in Staten Island, or Rockaway, media ears perk up. Social Class, the last Great American divide. The site of people of different cultures and backgrounds helping each other is new and perplexing to Establos. So what's more appropriate, amidst the devastation, than to interview the recipients of such good will and probe their inner feelings on Occupy Sandy's motives and political agenda? Nothing, apparently.

No doubt the victims of the storm appreciate the sudden Establishment interest. Call us cynical, but we're guessing they've got more pressing concerns. NY Times

Blogger Veronica SD at Allvoices goes deeper on post-Sandy reconstruction :

Sandy’s widespread destruction has highlighted another pressing problem rampant in certain parts of New York and New Jersey—poverty. More than half of residents in Far Rockaway, Queens and Coney Island Brooklyn, live in poverty and with many homes now completely destroyed; a large percentage without insurance.

The mutual aid notion is founded on a realignment of society's resources. You begin with servicing the needs of those most in need, then work your way up. It's the direct opposite of starting at the top, soliciting wealthy donors to get elected, then placating them while in office.

Moochers and Takers include the forever working poor who earn paychecks that do not keep up with rising prices. Which reduces them to week to week dependency on their employers that creates desperation. You may be working or you may be searching for work. Either way, it's set up the same. Access to a pool of desperate workers drives down their labor costs and bolsters the value of held money.

So-called public entitlements fill the critical gap left by employers' low wages. You would think they would be grateful for the subsidy. But for certain billionaires and the Lords of Finance, it's not so much Thanksgiving season as it is the countdown to the fiscal crisis, the pretext for slashing government dollars meant for the public.

Moochers and takers include those who previously worked paycheck to paycheck, until their bodies gave out. Now they are elderly, former workers and veterans relying on social security and medicare, aka benefits they paid for.

American companies and industry need them less, now that they are older. As such, the programs that sustain them are first on the fiscal chopping block. Cutting their benefits, and more critically, using their previous tax and social security contributions to buck up Wall Street liquidity becomes of paramount political concern. huffpost

The workforce is the least democratic place in America :

Each generation discovers this fact in its own unfortunate way. Not all work places are the same, of course. Silicon Valley and other tech start-up environments may feature perks, salary, and a level of participatory decision-making unknown to many other occupations.

WalMart Strikers spell big trouble for the captains of industry and the Lords of Finance. It's disturbing when wage workers display autonomy and ask to be treated as fellow human beings. The touchy-feeliness of it makes harder-nosed among us squirm. The reply from unsympathetic Americans is, as always, just leave if you don't like it and sell your labor elsewhere. The key word being “just.”

The Wal-Mart newsroom keeps pace every step of the way - and then some. On Thanksgiving day, between football downs, commercials feature actors portraying smiling blue-eyed, blonde haired Wal-Mart associates gleefully serving up soon to be obsolete consumer electronics like ice cream at a Dairy Queen. Americans rush to purchase the cheap toys, manufactured in far off places with low labor standards and poor human rights records. Dailyfinance The company creates jobs, it argues, and it does – primarily in overseas plants where the US government takes issue with its corrupt foreign practices. See the very specific experience in Ohio

Stores themselves now teem with shoppers, a collision of various threads running through the collective American psyche. Wal-Mart Workers want dignity and Americans – all but the most removed – agree they deserve it. But they need to get their shop on.

There's lots of talk about the impact of the Black Friday strike but workers interviewed at one Wal-mart location, in between directing foot traffic, are understandably subdued. The fact the company routinely conducts employee surveillance on its premises may be part of it. democracynow

An older female worker offers little support for her colleagues. “Are you from the union” she asks. She repeats what sounds like a company threat. “You better go. If they find out, they'll get you out of here.” Another worker, just coming off shift, politely demurs. “Sorry, I'm not supposed to talk to you.” Really?

The in-store shoppers are more forthcoming. Pat works for the Salvation Army, and doesn't really come here that often. Just to pay my JC Penney Bill, she says. She hasn't seen any strike activity. JC Penney, another huge retailer, employs a similar revenue model, though on a smaller scale, as Wal-Mart.

“Look,” says the veteran female worker, “if you want the hours, you take the work, it's that simple... I take the work.” When informed that striking workers say they want hours, but the company won't let them work full-time, she retorts “that's them, not me. I take the money.”

When pressed, she underscores a more basic reality : “listen, there's like 50 more people like me waiting to take my place, so what am I gonna do.”

Kayla, 18, attends Umass-Amherst, and is home for the holidays, shopping for items for her dorm room. She is more sympathetic.“They should get the benefits cause they don't really make anything anyway. Why won't they just give them benefits? I don't understand that at all.”

Her companion, Nick, agrees. He says, more than anything, he remembers “the whole planning process when they were building this thing...it just took over the whole area.” Prior to Wal-Mart, the space was occupied by the department store Ames, a store that suffered bankruptcy in part due to the competitive pressures placed on it by the larger competitor.

Wal-Mart generates controversy whenever it moves into town. Some communities just say no. Like Brooklyn, which recently told the mega store to pound sand, in order to preserve the homegrown neighborhood shops and boutiques that have grown up in its neighborhood. Brooklyn Rail

The American urge to buy is deeply-rooted. This means that the added attention brought by the strikers actually drives revenues. It results in the company achieving sales of 5,000 item per second. Money.msn.com

Americans also value thrift, a residue of the immigrant ethic of doing a lot with a very little. The way to do this used to be : save to get a piece of land, build a house, plant your food, reap your harvest , and spend resources only on life's necessities.

The modern way is to expend your precious low wages purchasing flimsy items in big box stores staffed by underpaid and undervalued workers. Those who live paycheck to paycheck – the 47% and beyond – may be made to feel exceptionally guilty should they not offer up sufficient economic sacrifice during the holiday spending frenzy. Guilt being one variety of the religious experience.

When the alien spaceships finally arrive to overtake and seize - if not obliterate outright - planet Earth, the instructions will be simple : knock out their electrical grid and herd them into the malls . From there we beam them up en masse.

The one percent strategy for America is similar : herd masses of workers into large, uniform locations. With everyone under the same roof, obeying the same rules, performing the same routine tasks, it makes life a lot easier. Since their wages are so little - with no overtime or holiday pay - they spend most of their waking lives working – or traveling to get there. It keeps them out of the streets. And reduces the challenge of controlling them over great distances.

For that we have the internet.

Wal-Mart, with its limitless resources, saturates all avenues of communication. It plays the game at light speed, with WalmartNewsroom telling consumers, over and over, “don't believe the hype.” The newsroom's goal is to get Establishment media to buy into this message and help them disseminate it : that tales of a Black Friday showdown and slowdown are overrated. From the hashtag :

Don't believe everything you read in the union press releases. We don't think their #BlackFriday activity will have an impact on customers”.

Corporate flacks feed establishment media a steady diet of facts and figures that emphasize Wal-Mart benefits like incentive profit-sharing, low turnover rates, and the fact that 20% of new hires have worked at Wal-Mart previously. Something which either demonstrates their undying love for their old gig – or their inability to find a better paying one. One stat goes unmentioned : 80% of Wal-Mart employees in some stores are on food stamps. dailykos

Wal-Mart has been savvier of late. Constant lawsuits and allegations of a variety of employment issues ranging from gender discrimination (Wal-Mart v. Dukes), racism, homophobia, crime in its parking lots, have all had an impact, and encouraged the company to foster a more benign image. The new PR campaign features sensitivity programs, green energy, and hooking up distribution for so-called socially-conscious brands like Stonyfield Yogurt.

But what comes up most of all is the allegedly close and unique relationship the store fosters with its low wage retail workers – its “associates.” It's what Wal-Mart consistently points to when it tells its employees that collective bargaining is unnecessary. Long ago, Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton defined the precise nature of the relationship :

"I pay low wages. I can take advantage of that. We're going to be successful, but the basis is a very low-wage, low-benefit model of employment."

The Pyramidization of the US Economy is an optimal arrangement for the Lords of Finance and investors. In addition to generating high– and steady – returns, it does a few handy things :

a. Builds exorbitant wealth for the one percent

b. Preserves enormous income discrepancies

c. Creates consistent downward pressure on overall wages tied to labor, which typically enhances the value of held money. DOL wage statistics for retail-level jobs routinely tracks as one of the lowest paid professions, according to its 2012 statistics, the average retail wage clocks in at $10/hr. US Department of Labor

Wal-Mart's newer, friendlier motto is “"Saving people money so they can live better lives". This replaced the previous “Always Low Prices, Always.” But the company's actual motto is: always low wages, always.

Wal-Mart is far from unique. Many of America's largest employers are retailers and all pay near the minimum wage – which in no way resembles anything near a “livable wage.”

Wal-Mart and its allies in government have consistently opposed the notion that as the employer of some 2 million people world-wide they owe any responsibility to pay anything approaching that. Paying a livable wage is viewed by the company the same way dictators view movements for democratic reform : as conspiracies organized by external influences. For Wal-Mart this includes, primarily, government, American labor, the church, workers, and community protest groups, who all conspire to drive down it's profits. The Atlantic

As Target lays claim to the exclusive Neiman Marcus shopper so does Wal-Mart now look to tempt upscale shoppers with the usual trappings :wood floors, wider aisles, designer coffee, ever present wifi and the essential sushi bar.

The young however, are no longer upwardly mobile, that is unless their childhood room is upstairs from the TV. Yuppies per se have gone the way of the dinosaur, with America's economic landscape now more neatly divided into haves and have nots. Workers may be more mobile, but they're not headed up. Nowadays they roam the American economic landscape from one job to the next.

Since Americans at every rung of the economic ladder have faced real wage stagnation and declines, Wal-Mart's extensive research shows an expanding customer base of previously well to do people needing lower prices on luxury goods. Bizjourmals

It's 1937 All Over Again :

For the longest time, Americans assumed they were powerless to do anything. It just didn't occur to anyone to actually resist, much less come up with a solution. So long as Americans had enough to get by, a modicum of leisure time, and income inequalities that were not so glaring, the system was acceptable.

Another pernicious idea Americans seem to have a hold of during these holidays: that just because you work in a retail job, doesn’t mean you shouldn't be treated with dignity, and that, just possibly, you ought to earn more.

It threatens the entire pyramid, and leaves investors queasy. A Black Friday strike just means too much. Could it spread to other retailers? Half of these locations are physically right next to each other and nearly all face the same issues. What happens if JC Penney workers see the example of striking Wal-Mart workers. If it can be done there, it can be done anywhere. Organized Labor struggles to keep pace. Will other stores follow suit? It harkens back to the 1937 sit down strikes that shook Detroit, a semi-spontaneous worker uprising in another industry, from another era, featuring the same demands for dignity.

It's a potentially toxic brew : occupiers, average American workers, and organized labor. The great fear is that the shoppers will come out of the shops, and into the streets. Fortunately for the Lords of Finance and the Captains of Industry, American shop with a near religious fervor, treating it as a quasi-patriotic duty. The entire system sits on the bedrock notion that consumerism and capitalism equals democracy.

The latest round of citizen resistance contains the early AdBusters – Zuccotti Park pizazz, the notion that there is something inherently screwed up with large outlets rewarding anonymous investors (many of them institutions) at multiples of what they pay the workers who do their back-breaking day to day work. AdBusters was formed around anti-consumerism, itself a particular pre-Occupy strain of anti-capitalism.

The Rise of Consumerism in American Consciousness

Capitalism and individual entrepreneurial effort are greatly celebrated in America and harken back to the dangers and daring of frontier life. In modern times, they have transformed themselves into the delusion held by some of the ultra-successful that they do it themselves. But the true spirit of American entrepreneurship ultimately recalls a bygone era, when company leaders were intimately involved in their company's operations – and made things that people could use.

In the earliest stages of industrialization, prior to the development of American consumerist society, production was devoted to basic infrastructure of transportation, communications, and manufacturing goods. There were as an implied use value to what was made. Significant markets and economies developed around such activity. However, such markets would quickly become an end of themselves, producing items with little use value at all.

The post World War II goals of US economists and policy-makers aimed to guarantee the perpetual expansion of markets, as a way to preserving the pace and production levels of the war-driven economy. The way to do this, according to PR master Edward Bernays, was the psychological creation of limitless needs and wants, a process he viewed as essential to a democratic society. In contrast to economic life during war-time, the creation of consumer demand – also termed the engineering of consent - could and would need to be endless, not timed to achievement of a particular goal or terminable event.

In Bernays' view, the psychological manipulation of such desires within the population contained a clear civic and political benefit. It would provide an essential counter to the more destructive mobilization and manipulation of man's baser instincts as practiced and mastered by the Nazis. The consumerist society was viewed by Bernays as essentially benign.

Investments made primarily by military and government, acting in tandem with research-driven American universities, fueled a rapid rise of the technological instruments that would help producers create such demands. The science was prodigious and its results impressive. An unintended consequence was that the devices themselves became available for personal use and themselves the subject of the same irrational demand – well beyond Bernays' wildest imaginings. As with any invention, their control and application quickly became more complex and problematic, an attribute of technological development that persists to this day.

-to be continued-

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