By Catherine Conlan
Change is hard. It can be painful, sudden, unexpected. The changes we’ve faced in how we work, how we interact with each other, how we go to school and out with our friends have been disorienting at best and devastating at worst — but those changes have created so much room for something new.
I’m not a social person — I like to say that I’m all about The People, but am awkward when I have to actually, you know, deal with people. But even I have found it difficult to rush through my grocery shopping without lingering or making chit-chat with the UFCW worker ringing up my purchases.
I’ve had my share of Zoom meetings with friends and family around the country and world, including the Central Labor Body monthly meeting, and while it’s hard not to be with the people we care about, we’re all learning new ways of connecting.
This goes for the way we work, as well. I’ve been comfortable working at home, as I did so for five years in my previous job as a full-time remote employee. (Admittedly, putting together a newspaper during a pandemic when my house is full of other sheltering-at-home family members is a little different.)
But some of those who can’t work at home have been flexing their metaphorical muscles as the hard bargain of selling parts of our life for money has become too expensive a deal to agree to during the pandemic.
According to the website PaydayReport.com, there have been more than 200 spontaneous work actions across the country since the beginning of March. It also assumes that there are many more that have not been reported.
These actions include sickouts, active protests, work stoppages and other actions that people are taking in an effort to exert control over how and when they work during this pandemic.
In some ways, it’s inevitable. When a public health crisis runs into political difficulties — such as a president who doesn’t want bad numbers publicized, or a governor facing political opposition and social unrest — something has to give. As different areas try to determine how and when to get people back to work without overwhelming the healthcare system, sometimes workers will do what they think is right to protect themselves.
Whether the workers involved are members of unions or not, these are actions that can help strengthen the Labor movement in the long run. Just as an injury to one is an injury to all, the actions and victories that help some can inspire and assist the rest of us as well.
Worker power is certainly weakened by the huge job losses the pandemic has caused over the past few weeks. People who aren’t working can find it a challenge to organize with others and feel empowered to change things for the better. But there is room to grow.
The changes that are so painful now — job losses, widespread sickness and death, millions of people losing their health insurance at a time when health care is desperately needed — may be the fires that refine a movement that can help improve work, care and leisure for everyone. Bring the day.
Solidarity through change
By Catherine Conlan