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About Time, Workers Are Driving the Jobs’ Bus

Ideas and Issues
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June 7, 2021

Pearl River    

Like a dog on a bone, I’m not going to get off of this argument I’ve now made a couple of times (Underemployed Strike is Winning, Are Unemployed Workers Striking?) that the current jobs situation in the US is not a worker shortage, as employers claim, but a worker rising.  It’s a silent strike without written demands, but increasingly there’s no doubt that workers are acting collectively, even if the meeting notice isn’t on Facebook, and the slogans haven’t become memes yet on Twitter and Instagram.

More evidence for my case keeps cropping up. The Upshot column in the New York Times has joined my team, well kind of anyway, since at least they are offering some proof for my argument.

Take this for example: March had a record number of open positions, according to federal data that goes back to 2000, and workers were voluntarily leaving their jobs at a rate that matches its historical high. Burning Glass Technologies, a firm that analyzes millions of job listings a day, found that the share of postings that say “no experience necessary” is up two-thirds over 2019 levels, while the share of those promising a starting bonus has doubled.

Let this sink in deeply.  While bosses are crying for workers, the country’s economy is opening up, and Republicans are blaming supplemental unemployment benefits for the boycott by under- and unemployed workers, other workers who kept their jobs and have been drawing paychecks in the pandemic, are leaving their jobs in record numbers.  Just to sharpen the edge on the point, these are workers who are leaving their jobs even though they know that voluntarily leaving will disqualify them from unemployment, stimi-benefits or not.  In a casual conversation the other day, I heard that state workers in the department of health were leaving right and left, although in their case they may be fried from a career catastrophe from a once-in-a-lifetime public health pandemic. Whatever, it’s another brick in my wall.

The Times’ story indirectly makes the point that these 40+ million odd “not so swell” jobs at the bottom of the employment ladder are going asking not just because of money, but also because workers are looking for a different future in their work with more opportunity, actual training, a feeling of accomplishment, and, hey, maybe even some flexibility in the work hours.  Workers are rising for sure, but are these demands really so radical?  Some employers are getting the message and saying, “we hear you.”  Even big ones like IBM are expanding their applicant pool, going back to people they had rejected before, looking past whether there was a college degree, and agreeing that, just maybe, they need to get back on the job and actually train workers for the jobs on offer.

If this is the first time that workers in the current generation, who have been hammered by the Great Recession and the once-in-a-century pandemic, are driving the jobs’ bus, let’s hope they have the seatbelts tightened and enough gas in the tank to take that baby all the way to real change in the relationship between employers and workers. With or without a union, workers are winning this silent strike now.