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Each Other's Welfare
Helen Keller | Twitter's Hall of Mirrors | The Legacy of the Pandemic
Quote of the Moment
Until the great mass of the people shall be filled with the sense of responsibility for each other’s welfare, social justice can never be attained.
| Helen Keller
Twitter’s Hall of Mirrors
Perhaps it’s fitting — and ironic — that employees sacked at Twitter should turn to that platform to vent, as soon as they have been kicked off the company’s Slack, as Emma Goldberg points out:
[Hung Truong, a former Twitter engineer] recalled the strange relief of posting that on Twitter knowing he wouldn’t have to give the painful update to followers one by one.
That’s an experience thousands are now sharing, as Twitter, Meta and other companies slash their work forces: Getting laid off in a time of extreme transparency, with social media providing an outlet for immediate processing.
This took on a particularly ironic twist at Twitter, where employees used a platform that had created this new era of workplace transparency to talk about their own workplace. Alternately angry and reflective tweets from laid-off Twitter workers stacked up under the hashtags #LoveWhereYouWorked and #TwitterLayoffs.
“It was the most humanity-affirming moment that as each tweep was fired, we all posted,” wrote Rumman Chowdhury, who had worked in ethics and transparency at the company, adding the emoji of a salute. “We laughed and rejoiced in the decency and kindness of friends. What a sendoff, Twitter.”
It’s the nature of job cuts in an age where people often can’t mourn with office-mates at a dive bar, but they can share their reactions with millions online. What was once an intimate experience, and often taboo, is now instantly public information.
Somehow reminds me of the joke about a co-op bar, where if you get drunk you have to throw yourself out. I am almost surprised that Musk doesn’t close the Twitter accounts of those fired, considering what he’s been doing.
And of course he’s ending hybrid work at Twitter, for all intents and purposes. Here’s his comments during his first company meeting at Twitter:
So with respect to remote, I mean, it’s a consistent policy that I have at Tesla and SpaceX, which is that we do need to be default in the office and for a reasonable amount of time. It’s not like some crazy number of hours. I’ll do crazy hours in office, but I’m not asking everyone else to do crazy hours in the office. But it’s just my philosophy that people are way more productive when they’re in person because the communication is much better.
If you’re sitting in the same room and you can interact with people, it’s just way better than if you’re not sitting in the same room. There’s a reason to have offices.
Now, if somebody’s contribution is so significant that they can overcome the communication difficulties of being remote, then they should absolutely remain at Twitter. But it will be a higher bar. They have to be that much better to overcome the communication issues of being remote. There are plenty of people at Tesla and SpaceX that do work remotely, but it is on an exception basis for exceptional people. And I totally understand if that doesn’t work for some people. That’s the new philosophy at Twitter.
Let me be crystal clear. If people do not return to the office when they are able to return to the office, they cannot remain at the company. End of story.
Basically, if you can show up in an office and you do not show up at the office, resignation accepted. End of story.
Remember when Melissa Mayer tried to clamp down on remote work at Yahoo to turn around the Titanic? And then the company was verizoned.
Over at Beacon Streets, I take a look at the mess that is the New York Democratic party:
Paul Millard turns us on to ‘critical ignoring’ and wonders if it’s more important that critical thinking:
The Legacy of the Pandemic
Helaine Olen weaves a tapestry about the present and future of work, based on a characterization of three kinds of workers in the US, and focuses on, as she puts it, ‘an unexpected opportunity: to remake our relationship with the labor that fills our days’. But, first, she considers three categories of workers disaggregated by the pandemic:
To understand what happened, it’s helpful to divide the 164 million Americans who were in the labor force in February 2020 into three rough categories.
There were the millions who thought they possessed a secure job, only to be laid off or furloughed as the pandemic lockdowns set in. There were white-collar office workers who continued to work 40 or more hours a week, but now from home. Then there were the workers — grocery store employees, food service workers and utility workers, as well as police officers, postal workers, teachers and health-care providers — whose work was suddenly dubbed “essential,” without whose efforts society as we know it would cease to function.
In all cases, she notes, the relationship between workers and their employers was ‘upended’. And their situations, beginning from three distinctly different starting points, continued to diverge:
The first group, exiled from their jobs, found themselves scrambling for a paycheck and a sense of meaning — but ultimately found their finances buttressed by everything from an expansion of unemployment to a student loan payment moratorium.
The second, many of whom previously spent more time with their work “families” than their real ones, found themselves working within their own homes. Minus commutes and pesky workplace interruptions (though often plus the presence of children), many found they had free time — to bake bread, engage with pandemic pets or take on increasing household tasks.
The third cohort — more likely to be Black or Latino, more likely to be lower-income — was left to labor in person. Some got temporary boosts in pay, but these were mostly rescinded after several months. They were more likely to get exposed to the coronavirus — and to be among the more than 1 million Americans who died of covid-19.
Olen doesn’t name the three groups, perhaps because after getting to this point in her Op-Ed, she abandons the three-part segmentation, and turns to a very readable (although maybe a bit hurried) history of labor unrest and the current revolt against the cult of overwork.
But we know that many if not most of the first group, which we might call the dispossessed, are now back at work, and have rejoined either the second group, the ‘virtuals’ (to use N.S. Lyons’ terms), the formerly remote and now more likely to be hybrid workers, or the third, the ‘physicals’, standing behind the counter, sitting behind the wheel, walking the hospital wards, or rolling a cart on the loading dock.
So the three have become two again, and they increasingly share a spirit of conflict with the grind culture that doesn’t care about workers much:
Today, there is still no national law guaranteeing a single day of paid vacation or sick leave. A 2019 Gallup survey found that when you measure everything from pay to control over the work environment, security and happiness, barely 4 in 10 employed Americans could be described as having a “good job.”
And we wanted one, more than almost anyone, even ourselves, realized.
Over and over, when people spoke to journalists, including me, about why they made changes in their professional lives since March 2020, they told us they liked receiving better wages when they switched employers. But even more, they wanted greater control over the terms of their labor.
Olen connects the dots between quiet quitting, the growing unionization movement, and remote workers resisting bosses’ demands to return to the office. She considers it the emergence of a ‘new order’:
The new order still faces headwinds. An increasing number of companies — including Meta — are carrying out layoffs, while others are slowing hiring and upping performance expectations on those currently employed. Jerome H. Powell, chair of the Federal Reserve, said he would most likely continue to raise interest rates but acknowledged “there will very likely be some softening of labor market conditions.”
Employers are clearly feeling more emboldened. Goldman Sachs is insisting all employees report to the office five days a week, no ifs, ands or buts. For all the attention paid to new union organizing at places such as Starbucks, overall membership continues to fall.
She has hopes that states — like California — will take a lead role in a transformation of work:
While labor laws need to be updated for our new reality, from protections for remote workers (yes, you should be paid for that email you sent after dinner!), to long-sought changes to empower union organizing, states are beginning to step into the breach. California, for instance, recently enacted legislation to set up a council governing conditions and pay for fast-food workers.
And her close? The stranglehold that work has held us in has been broken, and it turns out that it was our own hands on our throats:
After decades of subservience to work, Americans have finally made significant strides toward restoring it to its proper role in our lives. Now it’s our job to keep it there.
A.S. Lyons essay, Reality Honks Back, which I mentioned above, is a deep and challenging piece that I am working through. He is ostensibly writing about the Canadian Trucker’s Strike, but at its core he is wrestling with the tensions of an economy, financial and political — that is divided into ‘virtuals’ — those who do their work sitting at desks — and ‘physicals’ — who work standing up or outside of offices. He quotes Christopher Lasch, from The Revolt of the Elites:
The thinking classes are fatally removed from the physical side of life… Their only relation to productive labor is that of consumers. They have no experience of making anything substantial or enduring. They live in a world of abstractions and images, a simulated world that consists of computerized models of reality – “hyperreality,” as it’s been called – as distinguished from the palatable, immediate, physical reality inhabited by ordinary men and women. Their belief in “social construction of reality” – the central dogma of postmodernist thought – reflects the experience of living in an artificial environment from which everything that resists human control (unavoidably, everything familiar and reassuring as well) has been rigorously excluded. Control has become their obsession. In their drive to insulate themselves against risk and contingency – against the unpredictable hazards that afflict human life – the thinking classes have seceded not just from the common world around them but from reality itself.
Maybe this is the nexus of much of our division: we don’t really inhabit a common world. Or at least, we don’t always act as if we do.