Hating Your Job Is Cool. But Is It a Labor Movement?
Alec Wetherington didn’t know anyone in Portland, Ore., when he moved there in late 2020. His friends were in Seattle, his mother in Idaho, and he was lonely, so he started spending more time on Reddit. He found like-minded people on subreddit pages such as r/lostgeneration, r/millennials and r/exChristian. There was a certain amount of drama and trolling, but in general the posters were intellectual, thoughtful, young, a little radical — a lot like Wetherington. Reddit, for him, was a bit like an echo chamber and a bit like a group chat with friends. Time online was time spent socializing. It was surprisingly refreshing company for someone in a strange city.
Among the similarities he shared with his Reddit friends (and his offline friends too): indebtedness. In 2006, Wetherington took out more than $30,000 in student loans, and in subsequent years, because he wasn’t earning enough to make payments, he requested forbearance. The loan companies were always quick to extend it to him — “like candy,” he says. He didn’t understand the effect that deferring these payments would have on the money he owed, however, which was to capitalize the interest, increasing his debt. Nearly a decade after taking out his original loans, he had repaid about $17,000 yet owed more than the original loans. He regretted his degree. His English major and theology minor went unused, except in conversations with friends. And on Reddit.
It was the spring of 2021 when Wetherington started seeing posts from a subreddit called r/antiwork, whose motto was “Unemployment for all, not just the rich.” It had a couple of hundred thousand members, and stories from the community were popping up all over social media. (On Reddit, subreddits are called “communities”; their participants are known as “members.”) People wrote posts about poor treatment from bosses, about quitting their jobs.
“Where you at,” asks Chris, a boss, in a screenshot of one exchange of text messages posted on Antiwork.