De Facto General Strikes and Liberation from Fear of Falling

Every so often, there are online calls for a general strike, most of which are incredibly naive (talk to anyone who has ever organized a targeted, one shop strike, and you realize how ridiculous this is). But, as multiple authors have noted, workers do seem reluctant to take jobs even though there are openings. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich offers some useful context (boldface mine):

The media failed to report the big story, which is actually a very good one: American workers are now flexing their muscles for the first time in decades.

You might say workers have declared a national general strike until they get better pay and improved working conditions.

No one calls it a general strike. But in its own disorganized way it’s related to the organized strikes breaking out across the land – Hollywood TV and film crews, John Deere workers, Alabama coal miners, Nabisco workers, Kellogg workers, nurses in California, healthcare workers in Buffalo.

Disorganized or organized, American workers now have bargaining leverage to do better. After a year and a half of the pandemic, consumers have pent-up demand for all sorts of goods and services.

But employers are finding it hard to fill positions…

Renewed fears of the Delta variant of Covid may play some role. But it can’t be the largest factor. With most adults now vaccinated, rates of hospitalizations and deaths are way down.

My take: workers are reluctant to return to or remain in their old jobs mostly because they’re burned out.

Some have retired early. Others have found ways to make ends meet other than remain in jobs they abhor. Many just don’t want to return to backbreaking or mind-numbing low-wage shit jobs…

Years ago, when I was secretary of labor, I kept meeting working people all over the country who had full-time work but complained that their jobs paid too little and had few benefits, or were unsafe, or required lengthy or unpredictable hours. Many said their employers treated them badly, harassed them, and did not respect them…

Corporate America wants to frame this as a “labor shortage.” Wrong. What’s really going on is more accurately described as a living-wage shortage, a hazard pay shortage, a childcare shortage, a paid sick leave shortage, and a healthcare shortage.

In July, some asshole with a blog speculated that things might be different now for one important reason:

I suspect a fair number of people during the pandemic learned they could survive without work for a while. Part of that is psychological: there are a lot of people who believe if they’re able to work, they should. That belief has been sorely tested, given how poorly many workers have been treated during the pandemic. But there’s another factor–many people learned they can get by, maybe not well, but get by with partial work (or no work at all) for an extended period of time. Ultimately, they will have to land on their feet and recover their earnings–and the expiration of various eviction moratoriums won’t help. But I think for some, there’s less ‘fear of falling’ than there was before since many people–though not all–figured out how to survive falling (and, of course, many workers didn’t have that far to fall to begin with).

Put another way, when someone says they’re holding out for a better job and/or wages, they’re also saying they don’t face immediate financial pressure to find paying work. That’s a coping mechanism that will shift power to workers, at least a little.

Just like many office workers have learned they don’t need to drag their asses to the office, I think other workers have learned that they can get by and hold out for something better.

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