What’s with the black in Black Friday?

I never understood the meaning of the phrase “Black Friday.” It sounds so menacing. Today, I learned all about it at a site dedicated to the origin of the day. The phrase came about in the 1960s as a signal to the start of the Christmas shopping season. Black Friday  refers to stores moving from the “red”— which meant a financial loss— to the “black” — referring to a profit.

“In the 1960s, police in Philadelphia griped about the congested streets, clogged with motorists and pedestrians, calling it “Black Friday.” In a non-retail sense, it also describes a financial crisis of 1869: a stock market catastrophe set off by gold spectators who tried and failed to corner the gold market, causing the market to collapse and stocks to plummet,” reports blackfriday.com.

Now, however, new winds have been blowing into Black Friday. They are shifting the meaning from a day of shopping to a day of action. Actions on Black Friday abound, with an emphasis on protests at Walmart stores. For those of you who might balk because, perhaps, it’s the closest store around or its prices meet your pocketbook, consider this: Last year, 850,000 Walmart store workers made less than $25,000, while the company bagged $17 billion in profits.  For months, Walmart employees have been risking their jobs to stand up against the weak wages they bring home, along with what they call oppressive work conditions. Many garment workers who supply clothes for the company work in dire factory conditions.

Jobs with Justice, a national network of  labor unions, students, faith groups and community organizations, allows you to find the Walmart store protest closest to you. It reports that, last week, the National Labor Relations Board announced it is going forward with a national complaint against the corporation Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. for retaliating against workers who are protesting work conditions. You can sign a petition at Jobs with Justice even if you can’t attend a rally.

Another Black Friday alternative to dealing with hordes of bargain-hunting shoppers is to attend one of the many Fair Trade Festivals springing up each year as alternatives to the frenzy. In Albany County, for example, there is one in Delmar called Black Friday Fair Trade Festival, featuring goods from artisans in developing countries. Purchases help them to rebuild their lives and communities.

For those who shop traditionally, remember there is always a choice to Buy American and buy union-made.

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