A time to be thankful for people who stand for something

There was some criticism this week when Walmart employees in Brooklyn Center walked off the job, demanding workers be paid $13 an hour.

They’ll probably lose their jobs and that’s just fine with a lot of people who take these sorts of things personally, even though they neither work nor, in many cases, shop at Walmart.

People living on the edge have a hard time getting any support for the idea that the edge is no place to live.

“These workers have every right in the world to quit their job anytime that they want to,” a commenter on the WCCO story about the walkout wrote. “I hope that WalMart replaces each and everyone of them with someone that wants to work! Maybe if Walmart does replace them, then they will realize just how nice it is to have a job during this time of the year!”

“You’re lucky you have a job” is a familiar refrain in the country where it was once thought that if you worked hard, you’d get ahead.

In its classic unsigned editorial on Thanksgiving two years ago, the Star Tribune led the “you’re lucky you have a job” brigade in rejecting the complaints of Target workers who were forced to work at midnight on Thanksgiving.

Once again this Thanksgiving, Americans are shaken by uncertainty about the country’s financial future. Too many people are out of work, struggling to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. Many are lacking health insurance and forgoing staples that in different times were a given.

So please, protesting retail workers, stop whining about having to work holiday hours.

Be grateful to have a job.

“Grateful” or “glad” is the word that’s often used, but what is really meant is be “satisfied” that you have to go to bed early on Thanksgiving to get a nap in before midnight, or that you’re unable to buy enough food or pay the rent with the money you make. But “satisfied” and “grateful” are two entirely different words. Still, that doesn’t explain the visceral reaction people have to other people trying to get a piece of the pie, too.

In Elkhart, Ind., Tony Rohr worked hard to get ahead. He started at the local Pizza Hut 10 years ago in the kitchen and worked his way up to be the general manager of the store.

In previous years, he and other employees got Thanksgiving and Christmas off — the only two days that Pizza Hut closes its stores.

Not anymore. This year, the franchise is opening up on Thanksgiving.

“I said, ‘Why can’t we be the company that stands up and says we care about our employees and they can have the day off?’” he told a South Bend TV station.

And then he was told to sign a letter of resignation. Instead, he wrote his own.

In the letter he wrote, “I am not quitting. I do not resign, however I accept that the refusal to comply with this greedy, immoral request means the end of my tenure with this company.”

“I hope you realize that it’s the people at the bottom of the totem pole that make your life possible,” his letter went on to say.

There are more than 150 comments attached to the story and few of them mirror the “you’re lucky to have a job” reaction that these situations elicit in Minnesota, even though the unemployment rate in Elkhart is 10.2 percent.

  • Suzanne

    Excellent post. All so true and you rarely see this distinction – “grateful” versus “satisfied” or even “miserably scraping by.”

  • Sam Bergman

    Capitalism, in its most destructive, lessez-faire form, has become a radicalized religion for many in this country, and it is leading us down a terrible path. America rose to prominence in the world by insuring that rising economic tides really would lift all boats, but today, the yachts of the ultra-wealthy seem to delight in deliberately swamping the smallest of rafts, and then blaming the unfortunate victims for their own demise. Meanwhile, those of us fortunate enough to have scrapped and clawed our way into the middle class slip further toward the terrifying prospect of real and inescapable poverty with every passing year.

    And that all seems to be just fine with the people at the helm of a massive chain restaurant who are delighted to fire a loyal, longtime employee because he wants *his* employees to have the right to spend a holiday with their families. And I guarantee you that their justification in their own heads is that he wasn’t fired for trying to give his workers a Thanksgiving off, but for flagrantly disobeying the omnipotent corporate system, which can never be questioned, lest we be forced to ask ourselves why we have allowed it to exist at all.

    • billt

      Here in Chile a few certain days are obligatorily no-work nation wide, except for apparently owner family-members, & a few business exceptions

      • http://blogs.mprnews.org/newscut/ Bob Collins

        Let the record show it’s pretty cool that NewsCut has any audience in Chile!

  • Patrick

    Thank you for writing this.