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The rise of the anti-work movement

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Today, while these ideals remain central to the movement, the subreddit’s focus has widened to encompass more general labour rights. Users share stories of employer abuse, ask for advice on how to negotiate better pay, contribute memes or post news updates about ongoing labour strikes. Participants also offer tips on how users can support strike efforts. In December 2021, members of the subreddit helped efforts to flood Kellogg’s job application portal when the company broke off negotiations with striking unionised workers and said it would hire new, non-union workers. Although it’s unclear how much r/antiwork’s members directly influenced the company’s actions, later that month, Kellogg’s and the union reached a deal.

The community also provides links to literature and podcasts about the anti-work movement beyond Reddit. The majority of posts come from US workers across all genders and occupations, although there is a global presence as well.

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‘An interruption of work as we knew it’

Although the anti-work movement itself isn’t novel, it has garnered newfound attention.

“With Covid there was an interruption of work as we knew it,” says Tom Juravitch, a professor of labour studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, US. “In moments like this, people have time to reflect. Working has been degraded for so many people. The authority structures that we’re in have gotten more draconian and more controlling than ever. People really felt that in a new way.”

For blue-collar workers, Covid-19 brutally exposed deep inequalities; low wages, a lack of paid sick leave, requirements to be in customer-facing environments with inadequate workplace safety measures that left people vulnerable to contracting Covid on the job. Workers at all income levels, meanwhile, have struggled to juggle work pressures with family responsibilities caused by shuttered schools, leading to increased burnout, mental health issues – and, for some, existential questioning.

Yet Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labour education research and a senior lecturer at Cornell University, US, notes that while Covid-19 has been a major propellant, the current anti-work movement has deeper roots that predate the last two years. “Workers have had an amazing threshold for tolerating the abuse that employers have put on them,” says Bronfenbrenner. “But when that abuse went so far as to risk their lives, that 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 every disillusioned worker will embrace anti-work. It’s clear swaths of workers are seeking out new roles aimed at securing better conditions. Others are quitting or choosing to work for themselves. But some are trying to advocate for change. “People aren’t all quitting,” says Bronfenbrenner. “Some are saying they’re going to fix it by organising, striking or standing up.”



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