Strikes and mass layoffs: the move that could result in CLT in the US

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Strikes and mass layoffs: the move that could result in CLT in the US

Last Monday (22), Kit Stoll, 21, resigned from his job as a barista in a cafe in New Jersey, United States. Stoll’s growing dissatisfaction with the job, in which he remained for about a year, the frequent shouting scoldings of the boss, and the low cost-benefit ratio between hard work and low pay could have been an almost lonely experience, but in recent months they were monitored in virtually real time by hundreds of thousands of people.

Stoll posted his story — including his resignation — on a forum on the Reddit platform called the Antiwork Movement. “I took off my apron and left. Scary at first, liberating later,” Stoll wrote just hours after his resignation, in a message that received hundreds of comments and thousands of likes within minutes.

“Thank you so much for all the love and support in the midst of the most stressful time I’ve ever been through,” added Stoll.

Reports like Kit Stoll’s, of layoffs or episodes of abuse at work, pile up by the thousands on this forum. These are cases of people who were called to work on their own wedding day or at the time of their great-grandmother’s wake.

Workers who received warnings for going to the bathroom twice in a five-hour shift or who were fired for being late after a hemodialysis or chemotherapy session. And people who, even though they needed the money — like Stoll, who lives with his parents and has reduced his expenses to a minimum — decided to use part of their savings and stay out of the job market for at least a while.

Revolutionary or troubling?

Virtual space existed before the Covid-19 pandemic, but it has increased at least tenfold during the past 18 months. The anti-labour forum has become a sign of a problem that has been pointed out as serious and profound in the American economy: there are plenty of jobs, but there are no workers who accept them under the given conditions, with low wages and no labor guarantees.

Current estimates account for at least 10 million open jobs. The US has an unemployment rate of 4.6%. In Brazil, the index reaches 13.2%.

The lack of workers in the United States has been noticed for nearly a year, but most market analysts and economists attributed the phenomenon to the generous assistance to unemployed people in the pandemic, the high rate of cases and deaths by Covid-19 and the fact that that children followed in remote classes at home. All of this, they said, drove workers away from the labor market.

But the thesis turned out to be at least partially false. In September alone, the month in which pandemic aid finally ended, in which children returned to face-to-face classes, and in which the pandemic subsided in much of the country, nearly 4.5 million people asked for the bills.

This fact led the bank Goldman Sachs to produce a report in which it points out that the lack of workers in the US can be a “long-term phenomenon” and pose a threat to the growth of the American economy.

“A long-term risk to workforce participation (in production) is that some workers’ preferences and lifestyles may have changed after a year and a half out of the workforce. the taste for work is probably through social media. As a result, we see some risk that some workers choose to stay out of the workforce longer, provided they have the financial means to do so,” wrote the bank’s economist. Joseph Briggs, in the report produced two weeks ago.

On the 21st, Forbes, the world’s leading economics and finance magazine, published an article that said the “big layoff”, as the phenomenon has also been called, “is a workers’ revolution”, “an uprising against bosses bad and companies deaf to their employees, who refuse to pay well and take advantage of them.”

Kit Stoll’s 6-year career in the US trade and service industry is a testament to that. According to Stoll told BBC News Brasil, supermarket customers even threw products over their body and face, without their superiors intervening.

And when the pandemic broke out, no one even announced that their job at a college cafeteria would be replaced by an electronic totem pole of goods. “I arrived for work and found that I had a machine in my place”, he says.

“I feel like a key thing in this anti-labour movement is that while the forum logo is someone lying down, it’s not about wanting to be lazy. It’s about showing your own worth and knowing your own worth. it’s $12 (BRL 66) or $7.50 (BRL 41) an hour, depending on where you live. You’re worth a lot more and I’m hoping we can change a few things. And I think corporations should be afraid of us,” says Stoll.

She says she made a simple calculation: she multiplied the number of hours by the minimum wage offered in each of the 50 American states and compared the earnings with the costs of rent, food, transportation, health and education.

“It concludes that it is impossible to live on a minimum wage in this country, even a simple life, no matter where you are,” she said.

An MIT poll earlier this year reached the same conclusion, even with the proposed increase in the minimum wage by Democrats of $15 (R$83) an hour.

Work laws

According to Alexander Colvin, specialist in labor laws and conflicts at Cornell University, the United States is going through a key moment that could change the characteristics of local capitalism, known for its labor market with practically no regulation.

“The analogy I see is between now and the post-World War II economy. There was this strong post-war (economic) recovery and it was a period of great conflict, lots of strikes that were really being driven by the demand for the benefits of victory. There was the idea that workers had contributed both in factories and on the battlefield to victory. Now that the war was over, the thought was, ‘OK, we sacrificed during the war. Now it’s time to see the benefits of that.’ . The pandemic and post-pandemic economy has some similarities to that, we’re seeing this recovery from a period of sacrifice. People’s expectations change and they feel they deserve more,” Colvin analyzes.

He cites that not only has the anti-labour movement been putting pressure on the bosses, but that the US is experiencing an all-time high in the number of strikes.

More than 10,000 workers at farm equipment maker John Deere went on strike in early October for the first time in 35 years. Another 1,400 employees at Kellogg’s cereal factories left their posts in the same period.

And popular approval of unions (68%) is the highest since 1965, according to a poll by the Gallup Institute released in September 2021.

For Colvin, what the Goldman Sachs report points to as potentially negative for the economy could prove to be an important social gain.

“There is potential for a real shift in the direction of recognizing more rights for employees at work. The US stands out as the rich country that doesn’t offer really basic protections like paid sick leave, basic vacation rights, not getting fired unfairly and arbitrarily without prior notice. The country has a totally deregulated labor market. This is starting to change. And I think this change could accelerate,” says the expert.

By way of comparison, all the rights that Colvin mentioned are guaranteed in Brazil to those who are hired under the Consolidation of Labor Laws regime, the CLT.

According to him, there is no contradiction between labor laws and accelerated economic growth, an argument frequently raised by those who defend minimum regulation. An example of this would be within the USA itself: California is one of the states that offer more guarantees to employees and is, at the same time, the country’s largest GDP and hotbed of technological innovation.

But these changes will not come spontaneously. And for this reason, in anti-labor forums, workers try to encourage a kind of labor boycott of the end-of-the-year festivities.

The period that begins with Black Friday is usually a heated season of hiring in retail and commerce, thanks to high sales.

Eventually, higher wages are offered to attract these workers, but benefits and contracts are often temporary.

Some of those involved in the current American labor movement advocate that all workers who can stay at home and force profit losses for large companies during the most profitable period of the year for them.

“The point we’re at is like we’re waiting for a side to blink. Who’s going to blink first? Will the industry crumble and make things better for employees? Or are they just playing a game of solitaire, thinking the anti-labour movement will fail (Because the workers will run out of money and will have to go back to their posts)? We’re heading for a massive breaking point. Is that enough now? No, but can it be? yes. And I think as long as the movement continues, they’ll be forced to make changes,” Steve Rowland, a former trade manager with a three-decade career who was fired during the pandemic, told BBC News Brazil.

Rowland says the layoff and time at home made him see how toxic the work environment he ran was. To share the experiences of workers and service managers like him, Rowland created the “Retail Warzone” podcast.

Part of retail companies has tried to show adjustments to the demands of the workforce. Some have even offered US$17 (R$94) per hour, or hiring bonuses of US$500 (R$2.7 reais). Others offer college aid. Still others have guaranteed breaks on holidays, such as Thanksgiving, an industry first.

None of this, however, has been enough so far to reverse the trend towards worker shortages.

“They are looking for guaranteed hours, for competitive wages, for benefits, as health insurance in the US is very expensive. The industry needs to be much more focused on what workers really want. They don’t want pizza parties,” says the former manager.

Rowland’s life is an example of this. At 51, he frequently receives invitations to become a manager again in all kinds of businesses.

“I don’t even respond anymore. I have no desire to be a manager anymore. My wife and I had a lot of conversations about how to really simplify our lives. Today I unload trucks and do menial jobs in South Carolina. I don’t want to give orders, not have responsibilities. And this is something I try to tell people: you can get out of where you are, as long as you accept some sacrifices. It’s the first time in my 30 years of work that I’m absolutely at peace, content and happy with what I do,” Rowland said.

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