an epitaph for justice

the great american worker short

Two facts that everyone can agree upon right now – a lot of industries need workers and a lot of people are not returning to the jobs they have had or even quitting. This has been true across industries, from the service sector to white collar jobs.

Some would have you believe that the pandemic and the boosting of the social safety net have created lazy Americans who no longer want to work. There have been three fundamental shifts that contribute to American workers collectively calling the bluff of companies and businesses.

1. Increased Social Safety Net

Admittedly, this shortage is only possible because of the various increases to the social safety net, from boosted unemployment benefits to the direct pandemic payments. The fundamental question is: without the boot of survival on the neck of American workers, how would people react? If they were working a job for survival instead of thriving, it should be of no surprise to anyone that they might want to change jobs. If they were working a low wage job with extremely challenging hours, why would they want to return?

2. Focus on Life

In general, most people who work jobs spend over half of their lives at wage work. The focus on jobs also discounts the many aspects of labor that people do (especially women and mothers) that are fundamental to society and the economy but are not recognized financially. Most people would agree that the most important aspect of their life is their family – yet historically, people have struggled to have the space and time to invest everything that they want to into these critical relationships. The pandemic hit a big reset button: life is not about work, life is more valuable than work.

3. Collective Action

In this past year, our individualistic culture has been rudely awakened to the importance of thinking and acting communally. Staying home wasn’t just about staying safe, but also to not spread Covid to others. Wearing a mask wasn’t that effective to protect yourself, but it was very effective at preventing spread to others. Racial injustice was not just a problem for some people, but it was a problem for all Americans. We marched, we sanitized, we voted. Even moments, such as when the average, everyday person bought stonks and wiped out hedge funds shorting businesses, highlight how Americans are beginning to reawaken to the power of collective action.

In Short

For too long, many businesses have collectively shorted American workers – now Americans are collectively holding out for better work/life balances and better benefits. The groveling of many businesses about American workers being lazy shows the mismatch in valuation of labor. If people aren’t willing to work for you at the pay you are offering, maybe it’s because your business model is broken and not because people are lazy. The hold has been working – wages are up, benefits are up, and people are reorienting their lives beyond survival. We must continue to organize together to demand that all people have the opportunity to live flourishing lives.