The Current Labor Movement
02 January 2022
Over the last couple of years, there has been a pro-labor movement happening around the world.
It is referred to in the media as the "antiwork movement", "the great resignation" or "lying flat".
What I mean by "labor movement":
- workers are leaving their toxic underpaid workplaces en masse [source]
- workers are striking at various businesses across the world for fair pay and other workplace rights
- the r/antiwork subreddit has exploded in popularity.
This movement is fueled by
- inability to find decent-paying jobs or receive wages that increase to meet inflation [source]
- the rise of the gig economy
- overwhelming amounts of college and medical debt
- fear of putting health at risk during a worldwide pandemic
Strikes have broken out across the labor industry from manufacturing companies to bus drivers to nurses to tech workers. Here is an article from October 2021 which talks about some strikes that were on at the time.
Frito-Lay and Kellogg's are two strikes that garnered the most widely-covered media attention, but they are not alone. Some other strikes that happened with big-name companies including Starbucks (which formed its first unionized location) and Amazon (in twenty countries!!).
When a strike occurs at a company and is successful, it sends aftershocks to other companies in the industry - and sometimes even outside of it. If it happens at one company, it could happen anywhere else, and it gives workers a renewed perspective at what could be possible by organizing.
One extremely relevant subreddit that has been in the spotlight lately is r/antiwork. I joined this subreddit in 2018, so I also personally have watched it grow and change over time. To better demonstrate how big it's gotten (and how quickly), here is a screenshot from subredditstats:
r/antiwork's description is, "a subreddit for those who want to end work, are curious about ending work, want to get the most out of a work-free life, want more information on anti-work ideas and want personal help with their own jobs/work-related struggles."
The subreddit consists of screenshots of texts and emails with management, personal stories of workplace exploitation, unrealistic job postings, success stories of finally leaving a toxic workplace and news about strikes and unions. The subreddit highlights the painstaking truth of how much 'freedom' the average person has while factoring in working full-time, commuting, cooking, chores, basic life administration and energy/health limitations. Or how much economic freedom the average person has - after paying bills, rent and utilities, of course.
A raising of class consciousness
Class consciousness is when a class of people become collectively aware that they suffer from the same shared experiences of exploitation. I see r/antiwork as an example of proof that class consciousness is on the rise. It suffers from the same types of problems as all subreddits, but they are also having lots of important conversations.
The rise in this group's popularity is encouraging people to speak out about the way they are treated at their jobs. It is encouraging people to quit their toxic workplaces and find better jobs. It's teaching people about the importance of forming unions, discussing their pay, and drawing boundaries in the workplace. This is important information.
Why is this happening?
Income inequality is accelerating
It's no coincidence that this labor movement is gaining steam during the worldwide pandemic. Especially because during this time, the rich have been getting richer while the larger majority of people are plagued with debt and living paycheck-to-paycheck.
Even more recently, Dr. Anthony Fauci spoke on the CDC's new, looser guidelines related to the pandemic. He said, "We want to get people back to the jobs, particularly the essential jobs, to keep society running smoothly". [source]
This reinforces the widely-shared reality that our health and well-being, as workers, is less important than keeping businesses open and fully staffed. This will only fuel the movement more.
Perhaps part of the problem is that, even before this labor shortage, 'understaffed' has become the new 'staffed'. Businesses have a reputation keeping their employee roster lean to cut costs (which increase profit). In my first full-time job, my labor replaced the labor of two full-time employees with 30+ years of experience for less than half of their pay. I don't have a single friend who can attest that their place of employment is adequately staffed.
What r/antiwork, and these events as a whole, have taught me
- It is the primary motivation of every profit-seeking company to gain as much profit as possible. This profit is only available through exploiting the labor of their workers. A simple example of exploitation is asking for as much labor as possible in exchange for as little pay as possible.
- It is your legal right to discuss your pay with your coworkers. Many companies illegally prohibit discussing pay among workers. Again, this is illegal. If your workplace does this, you can report them to the Department of Labor. Employers who discourage this don't want you to know the new kid, fresh out of college, is making three times your salary.
- Here is why unions are a good thing: if you're able to collectively bargain with the help of a legally-trained union representative, you have power in numbers and the expertise/experience needed to bargain effectively. Businesses are committed to union-busting. They are legally allowed to create anti-union campaigns. They really don't want you to join one. Here's a list of illegal employer behaviors related to the prospect of unionizing.
- Wage theft is a real thing. You should always check your pay stubs to ensure you are being compensated for the correct amount. Then check your bank account to make sure the amount lines up. Do this especially if you use direct deposit, and never actually look at your pay-stubs. If you have a time-sheet, cross-check everything. Never work for free, stay late or work over your hourly limit. It is illegal in the US to make an employee work unpaid overtime (this only applies if the company you work for adheres to the Fair Labor Standards Act which most, but not all, do). If you fear you might be asked to stay late, always have an excuse on hand - a dr. appointment, prior plans, etc. - your boss doesn't want you to schedule those during the workday, does he?
- Freely share your experiences at your job with others and get their feedback. Keep in mind that what seems 'normal' to you could be extremely manipulative, abusive, even illegal! Exchanging this kind of information with others (especially others outside of your immediate social circle) can help you get a feel for a situation that you're unsure how to react to.
Let's keep talking about worker's rights, as well as exercise the rights that our bosses assume we aren't aware of.
If you have any other ideas, or things I missed and should add to this place, please feel free to leave a comment!