American workers are engaged in “the equivalent of a general strike,” former Labor Secretary Robert Reich has argued, following unexpectedly low U.S. employment figures.
Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) numbers released on Friday showed that U.S. employment increased 194,000 in September—about 300,000 shy of estimates.
Despite record level job openings and 7.7 million out of work, many employers still report difficulty filling positions.
Some have described the issues as a labor shortage. “But that’s not what’s really going on,” Reich, who served as labor secretary from 1993 to 1997 during the Bill Clinton administration, wrote on progressive website Common Dreams on Sunday.
“In reality, there’s a living wage shortage, a hazard pay shortage, a childcare shortage, a paid sick leave shortage, and a health care shortage – and American workers are demanding an end to all these shortages. Or they won’t return to work.”
Among other aggravating factors, BLS’ report highlighted parents struggling to return to the workplace as a result of high childcare fees.
Reich added that since the COVID-19 pandemic, some workers retired, found other income or “simply don’t want to return to backbreaking, low-wage s*** jobs.”
Reich is fundamentally correct here, though I think this is a bit less political than he puts it. This is in a small way similar to how W.E.B. DuBois described the slave general strike, where slaves just individually walked away from the plantations and toward Union lines, taking their labor away from the traitors and to themselves and the Union. This is not as morally important as ending slavery of course, but it’s the same kind of relatively apolitical decision being made by millions of Americans who are looking at the economy and being like, nah. Yes, certainly the failures of the welfare state have something to do with it, but it’s not as if there’s a low-wage worker movement here demanding universal child care. It’s just decisions people are making on their own. But when you have millions of people doing it, it can have a widespread impact on the labor market and this is what is happening now. It would be nice to see some political organizing out of this situation, but I’m not even sure that people are really ready for that. They mostly seem to want to be left alone, or at least are happy just not working a shit job. And good for them.