:: Scrooge’s washcloths
Bob Cratchit goes on strike
by David Hoppe
A show of hands, please. Who among you doesn’t know the story of Ebenezer Scrooge?
On the off chance you haven’t heard, Mr. Scrooge is the lead character in a novella by Charles Dickens called A Christmas Carol. Dickens published it in 1843; since that time, his story has been turned into movies, television specials and musicals. Stage versions, like the one currently on offer at the Indiana Repertory Theatre, have become a traditional part of the holiday season.
With Scrooge’s story being enacted in so many ways, you’d think people would have gotten the message.
But the recent dust up over the ever-increasing number of people having to spend Thanksgiving at work suggests otherwise.
It’s been called “Black Friday creep.” Instead of closing so that workers could spend a day with friends and family, many retailers and service industries opted to extend their biggest sale day of the year.
At Walmart, which opened at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, the Number One seller was a six-pack of washcloths selling for $1.74. Meanwhile, in Chicago, workers at two Whole Foods stores threatened to go on strike rather than work on Thanksgiving Day. At the last minute, Whole Foods agreed to let workers have the day off.
I realize that America’s economy is now based on consumption. Instead of making stuff, we shop for it. For better or worse, this is what makes our country’s wheels go round. This means (in theory, anyway) that: A. The more opportunities we make for each other to spend money the better, and B. if your job involves collecting that money, you have to be prepared to give up what the rest of us shoppers like to call “a life.”
This is what brought Dickens’ Christmas story to mind. In it, Ebenezer Scrooge is a money-gouging skinflint, or what today we might call a Financial Services analyst. We find him making his overworked and underpaid employee, Bob Cratchit, work late on Christmas Eve and only grudgingly giving his drone a paid day off on Christmas, or what Scrooge calls, “a poor excuse for picking a man's pocket every twenty-fifth of December!"
Of course, as the story unfolds, Scrooge is led to see the error of his ways. The ghosts of Christmases past, present and future help him put his life in perspective and, by story’s end, the old guy has turned into a generous soul, happily redistributing his wealth with one and all.
Like all great stories, A Christmas Carol has an uncanny way of drawing people in and, for a brief time, putting themselves in someone else’s shoes. We journey with Scrooge and, as we do, come to understand the man he has become and what’s at stake if he doesn’t find it in himself to change.
But a funny thing’s happened to A Christmas Carol. As Black Friday creep shows, it seems many of our business leaders sleep through most of the story. They wake up when the credits roll, thinking Scrooge’s management style makes sense.