Germinal is the story of the poor coal miners who unite to strike against the privileged capitalists who oppress them. A strike has been called and the mines are not being worked; a contingent of miners is expected at the home of the mine manager to make their demands. But in the meantime, Zola provides this scene; First, look how skilled Émile Zola is as a writer. This would make a wonderful scene in a stage play. Then stop and consider what is being related and compare it to the current situation in the world, especially in the United States, with the destruction of represented labor and the obscene difference between the corporate leaders and the workers who actually make the good life possible for the greedy capitalists.
I’m about as irreligious as the best of them but it is not the religious aspects of Christmas that I dislike the most. Christmas, after all, was originally co-opted by the Christians to celebrate the birth of Christ. You can read all the myths in the Bible and in all those other examples of religious propaganda that have propelled the religion through the years (not to mention burning at the stake and other quaint rituals designed to demonstrate the benevolence of the religion). I think a true conservative would want to return Christmas to the Babylonians or at least the Romans so it can be celebrated as it was originally intended.
The last three years I have had no need to wander around the malls shopping for that certain gift for all those special people I want to honor. Christmas is the one day to atone for the other 364 days you probably cheated and otherwise ignored those same special people. Even politicians can drag their sorry asses into church that day and feel good about themselves and the world. They come home ready to end winter heating support for the elderly and determined to turn Social Security into a profit center for their friends (rather than Fascist, perhaps we should resurrect the name of Simon LeGree for the Republican Party?).
Although I fondly remember those peaceful days when commercial applications were not allowed on the internet, I must admit that now I am almost exclusively an internet shopper: I get my ideas for purchases or gifts from the internet, I do comparison shopping on the internet, and I eventually make my purchases on the internet using a well-worn credit card. Being partly disabled, I don’t know what I would do without the internet and the package delivery guy. But now I read how large companies like Amazon and Walmart are using what is close to slave labor to support all that internet buying. I am sure that if the same articles had substituted references to China for the references to companies and locations in the United States, most people would be shocked and demand that China stop such despicable acts and treat their workers with respect, give them time off for their families, and assure they were adequately compensated so they could escape from poverty and economic slavery. Of course, when it is revealed that these practices actually are going on in the United States, not China, no one will believe you—America is exceptional and never does anything wrong.
Unless it involves money.
As I understand it from the reports, many of these large retail companies do not actually support their own warehouse operations but rather outsource the work to other companies that specialize in managing huge mail-order warehouses. And even then, many of the management companies don’t use their own employees to do the work, especially during peak times like Christmas, but rather they hire temporary workers. Now I have had some exposure to the temporary worker scam so I can see how it’s a great way to assure a high level of profit at the expense of the workers that actually do the job. First, if you are using temporary workers you are not obligated to pay them the benefits a regular worker would receive. I have even seen working arrangements where the company hires what they document as “self-employed” workers; this not only saves them the cost of benefits but the entire tax burden must be carried by the worker who often learns at tax time that he (or she) owes far more in taxes than imagined and therefore actually earned far less in that job they had last Christmas than they thought.
Add to this that as temporary workers they are subject to being let go for any reason including no reason. What many companies do is demand inordinately high levels of productivity. The workers must execute their usually repetitive tasks faster and faster until they either don’t meet the demands of the job and are let go or until they break-down in exhaustion (or worse) and are replaced by a fresh temporary hire. Remember there is no union representation so overtime is mandatory, as is working holidays. If a temporary worker cannot meet the demands, they are replaced. And now, you probably heard one of the Republicans running for President that wants to eliminate child labor laws. I guess this means that the overworked temporary worker of the near future might only be ten years old.
How else can Amazon guarantee that my books and my camera and my T-shirts and my oven mitts will all arrive at my doorstep in only two days.
I ran across this T-shirt recently and it expresses for me the true meaning of Christmas in the United States. I would contend that there is, in fact, a War on Christmas, but like so many other things, it is the people and organizations that are insisting that Christmas is being attacked that are themselves the attackers. For most people Christmas is only a religious holiday when it is convenient. Otherwise it is a Saturnalian feast that has formed an unholy alliance with greedy corporations and medieval labor practices. Christmas today seems very much in line with something Marx wrote and I will paraphrase it here: