- - Thursday, November 26, 2015


Not everyone participates in the retail holiday known as Black Friday. But none of us can deny that the discounts and promotions on offer are a marketing and sales tactic that works. Each year, retailers across America work to bring their accounting books into the black on this day, the symbolic beginning of the holiday shopping season. Most shoppers and sellers end the day satisfied and happy, both having taken full advantage of the bounty of the free market.

But once again this year, on display next to the Black Friday sales, happy customers, and in-the-black retailers, will be another sales tactic – one that doesn’t work, and in fact is more of a public nuisance than a successful advertising pitch. Gathering outside Walmarts in Washington, D.C., and other cities will be Black Friday protestors sponsored by a group known as Organization United for Respect, aka OUR Walmart.

Yes, the protests are a sales tactic. But rather than something most people want, the product for sale is union membership. OUR Walmart, while claiming to be independent, is actually affiliated with the United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW), which for years has tried to unionize Walmart’s associates. And the protests, despite any other pretense, will be in furtherance of that goal.

Of course, given the product they have to offer, OUR Walmart’s annual protests haven’t succeeded in reversing the decline in union membership. Fewer than seven percent of private-sector workers belong to unions in the U.S. today, and Walmart’s associates have not embraced the UFCW.

But despite this lack of success, OUR Walmart does their best each year to get between shoppers and the bargains they seek, and – more importantly – in front of as many television cameras as possible. Protestor spokespersons (spokesprotestors?) say they’d like higher wages and more full-time jobs, but the reality is that most of these demonstrators don’t actually work for Walmart themselves. Instead they are recruited, like actors, to hold signs and shout slogans. They are essentially a living advertisement for unionization.

But to be clear: You won’t hear protestors actually talk about forming a union. Their talking points are developed to sound righteous, not to sound like a sales pitch. This year’s focus will be on “fasting,” specifically urging people to go on a 15 day fast for $15 an hour. Urging people to fast during the Thanksgiving holiday may not be the most effective recruiting tool, but hey, it’s a free country, and every group, individual and company is entitled to advertise however they’d like.

That said, when an advertising technique isn’t working, it becomes nothing more than a nuisance. And when it’s pushed too aggressively, advertising can also become something from which potential consumers actually need to be protected. Little surprise then that as a result of its protests, courts in seven states have ordered OUR Walmart and its protestors not to enter Walmart stores for any purpose other than shopping.

Shrewd observers – including the media – should take these made-for-TV shenanigans with a grain of salt, especially in a city like Washington, D.C., where workers are already paid a wage well in excess of the federal minimum. Indeed, they should be viewed as the sales tactic they clearly are.

It would be better if the UFCW would simply find something else to do. Perhaps they could ask themselves, if protesting on Black Friday doesn’t sell union memberships, isn’t it time to try a new sales tactic that isn’t such a nuisance for holiday shoppers?

Don’t expect an answer, at least not this year. But in the meantime, don’t let a protestor who has foregone a turkey dinner come between you and a great deal on Black Friday.

Glenn Spencer is vice president of the Workforce Freedom Initiative at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, www.workforcefreedom.com.

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