The rise of the anti-work movement
Today, while those ideals remain central to the movement, the subreddit’s focus has broadened to encompass more general labor rights. Users share stories of employer abuse, ask for advice on how to negotiate better pay, contribute memes, or post updates on ongoing strikes. Participants also offer advice on how users can support strike efforts. In December 2021, members of the subreddit aided efforts to flood Kellogg’s job application portal when the company broke off negotiations with striking union workers and said it would hire new non-union workers. Although it is unclear to what extent r/antiwork members directly influenced the company’s actions, later that month Kellogg’s and the union reached an agreement.
The community also provides links to literature and podcasts about the anti-labor movement beyond Reddit. The majority of positions are from American workers of all genders and occupations, although there is also a global presence.
“A labor disruption as we knew it”
Although the anti-work movement itself is not new, it has attracted new attention.
“With Covid, there was a labor disruption as we knew it,” says Tom Juravitch, professor of social studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, USA. “At times like this, people have time to reflect. Work has been degraded for so many people. The authority structures in which we find ourselves have become more draconian and more controlling than ever. People really felt that in a new way.
For blue-collar workers, Covid-19 has brutally exposed deep inequalities; low wages, a lack of paid sick leave, the requirement to be in customer-facing environments with inadequate workplace safety measures that left people vulnerable to contracting Covid at work. Workers at all income levels, meanwhile, have struggled to juggle work pressures and family responsibilities caused by school closures, leading to an increase in burnout, health issues mental – and, for some, an existential questioning.
Yet Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research and senior lecturer at Cornell University, US, notes that while Covid-19 has been a major propellant, the current anti-work movement has roots. deeper ones dating from before the last two years. “Workers have reached an incredible threshold to tolerate the abuse that employers have inflicted on them,” says Bronfenbrenner. “But when that abuse went so far as to risk their lives, it crossed the line; in the context of Covid, where employers were asking them to work harder than ever and employers were making huge profits.
Of course, not all disillusioned workers will embrace anti-work. It is clear that whole sections of workers are looking for new roles aimed at guaranteeing better conditions. Others leave or choose to work for themselves. But some are trying to advocate for change. “People don’t all give up,” says Bronfenbrenner. “Some say they will fix it by organizing, going on strike or standing up.”