Doreen Ford spent 10 years working in retail stores in the Boston area and hated it.
So, in 2017, when Ford’s grandmother suggested that she give up her traditional job altogether and use her love of dogs to make ends meet, she agreed. Ford walks dogs part-time, but hasn’t had a traditional job since and says she’s never been happier.
“Usually, at best, [working was] unnecessary, ”said Ford, 30,“ and at worst it was degrading, humiliating and exploitative ”.
Ford is one of the early pioneers of the “anti-work” movement, which encourages followers to work as little as possible in traditional jobs or to abandon them altogether for self-employment, in an effort to focus on leisure.
She is also the moderator of r / antiwork, the influential discussion thread on the Internet Reddit forum. Its membership has grown from 180,000 in October 2020 to 1.6 million this month as the coronavirus crisis causes many people to reassess their careers.
Large numbers of Americans quit their jobs last year, including 4.5 million in November, the Labor Department reported on Tuesday. It was the highest “quit rate” since the ministry began tracking it in 2001. Data shows that many workers likely quit their jobs after receiving better offers.
But the labor force participation rate has stagnated below pre-pandemic levels, indicating that some workers have still not returned to the workforce despite record job openings. Many may be concentrating on their care responsibilities or be afraid of contracting Covid-19. But at least some seem to have been disappointed with conventional job opportunities during the pandemic, like Ford.
Their number is enough to prompt Goldman Sachs to warn in a November research note that the anti-labor movement posed a “long-term risk” to labor force participation.
“I think there are a lot of positions that just don’t make sense, that don’t have to exist,” Ford said. “You’re just passing papers around for no good reason. It really doesn’t help anyone.
The “idlers,” as members of the anti-work movement call themselves, largely believe that people should strive to work as little as possible and preferably for themselves. Many of those who have quit working say they run their own micro-businesses, like Ford, or work as few hours part-time as possible to survive. Some hire roommates or raid dumpsters for food to lower their cost of living, according to Ford.
The anti-work movement traces its ideology back to Marxist texts suggesting that humanity could evolve beyond the requirement to work for a living. A parallel has emerged in the popular “lay flat” trend among Chinese millennials, where they forgo ambitious careers in favor of a simpler and less materialistic life.
Antiwork first appeared on Reddit in 2013. A survey of nearly 1,600 members of the “subreddit” administered by its moderators found that they were predominantly male and based in North America. Half of the people questioned say they still have a full-time job.
The subreddit is filled with stories that workers say prove their bosses don’t care.
One poster, which is called amethysttt07, cited the case of a promised pay rise that went in place of a colleague without an explanation: “Just a friendly reminder, unfortunately we are all disposable and can be replaced in a moment. Even if you do your best and spend hours, it won’t pay off.
Another boasted of working from home while infected with Covid-19, but “[playing] video games 85 percent of the time ”. “The boss earns a dollar, I earn a penny. That’s why I fuck during working hours, babe, ”Brotendo88 wrote.
But his most famous posts are screenshots of resignation letters and text messages. They turned out to be so popular that moderators limited their posting to Sunday.
“We consider perhaps that there could be an alternative to living our life in the grip of the richest among us, in the service of their profit,” said historian Benjamin Hunnicutt, professor at the University. from Iowa whose books on labor history are featured in r / antiwork’s library. “Maybe there are other things to do in our lives besides racking up profits for those who are ultra-rich, and taking this time, recouping that time.”
Economists say it’s nearly impossible to measure how changing attitudes toward work have influenced labor market trends, but cultural shifts could help explain some of the peculiarities of the market. Employers from Tyson Foods to FedEx complain they can’t find enough workers despite higher wages.
At the same time, a wave of strikes last fall led many workers to pressure their employers for better benefits after years of stagnant wages and fears of health risks added to their jobs during the pandemic. The “idlers” even got involved in some of these union actions, submitting thousands of bogus applications to a hiring website set up by Kellogg to replace striking workers at its grain factories.
With its activism, r / antiwork has gotten comparisons to another prolific Reddit sub-thread, WallStreetBets. Last year, retail traders jacked up the prices of “memes stocks” such as besieged video game retailer GameStop and the AMC movie chain in a coordinated effort to punish hedge funds that sell these stocks short.
“Most of us are just normal people,” said Ford. “We have jobs that we don’t like, which is why we are in the movement to start.”