Source: Fightback

Sound the alarm! Pack the cannons! Release the dogs! The plebians are “quiet quitting”! Or are they? 

Recently, the term “quiet quitting” has gained steam in the news cycle, prompting a myriad of borderline-hysterical opinion pieces and unhinged LinkedIn posts from bargain bin entrepreneurs slamming the “snowflake generation” for their allegedly pathetic work ethic and weak character. 

Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post, describes it as “a step toward quitting on life.” 

A manager wrote into the New York Times advice column asking if they can formally discipline employees for quietly quitting and require them “to put in more effort.” 

The dramatic way employers talk about the trend of so-called “quiet quitting,” you might think they’re under siege—that workers are wheeling in the guillotines between lunch meetings and replying to emails. 

What is ‘quiet quitting’?

Despite what the name suggests, quiet quitting does not involve someone actually quitting their job. Instead, it’s a way to describe the increasing number of workers showing up to work when they’re scheduled, leaving at the end of the work day, and carrying out the tasks of their job as they are outlined in their job description—nothing more, nothing less. It means leaving unfinished work at the office, not responding to emails outside of business hours, and doing only what is actually required of you for your job. 

Pulling back the curtains of the flashy headlines quickly reveals that bosses are upset over workers simply doing their jobs, which leads many to ask, “As opposed to what?”

In August of this year, Canadian businessman Kevin O’Leary crawled out of whatever dungeon the Shark Tank investors are locked in between filming to give his thoughts on workers quietly quitting, saying that it’s “a really bad idea”, and that he wants people willing to work “25 hours a day eight days a week”. 

Perhaps, however, O’Leary is not the most sound source of financial and business advice, considering the pesky trail of fraud accusations that seem to litter his career—from overstating earnings to cajole investors, to insider trading, to a variety of other methods of creative accounting. Kevin O’Leary earned his fortune lying, stealing, and cheating, not by working his poor little hands to the bone as he would like us to believe. O’Leary’s time spent crashing his yacht and helping his wife dodge charges for killing two people seems to indicate that he does not work 25 hours a day, eight days a week.

It’s transparently clear that O’Leary and others like him are not concerned for the future career opportunities and positive reference letters that employees might miss out on by quietly quitting. Like any other capitalist, he knows very well that in order to maintain and expand the cushy lifestyle he leads, workers have to believe that work is the source of all earthly happiness and fulfillment; that in order to provide a better life for their kids, to have enough money to retire, to not worry about making it to the next paycheque, and the next, and the next, they have to work at an obscene and unsustainable rate. 

Quiet quitting is just a way for employers to “say the quiet part out loud.” For decades, the status quo has been for workers to go above and beyond the description, and more importantly, the compensation, of their jobs. If you weren’t slamming your head against your cubicle wall after four hours of unpaid overtime, trying to shake off feelings of utter exhaustion and despair, you weren’t working hard enough—and watch out, because your boss is going to start noticing that you’re not a team player! 

Why now? 

At the heart of the manufactured rage and right-wing think pieces about quiet quitting are the capitalists, the investors, and the big bosses, attempting to download the blame of systemic and chronic failures of capitalism onto individual workers. 

The working class has been overworked for years, and more and more people are reporting being burnt out, stressed from their jobs, and suffering physical symptoms such as fatigue. Millennials face the highest rate of reported burn out at 59 per cent, with Gen Z coming in a close second at 58 per cent. 

Over the last 40 years, the gap between productivity and the wage of an average worker has continually widened. Pre-1970s, as productivity increased, hourly wages followed at nearly the same rate. Between 1973 and 2013, however, productivity ballooned by 74.4 per cent, but wages dragged behind, increasing only 9.2 per cent. This, of course, does not apply to the top one per cent of earners, who have seen their wage increase beyond the rate of productivity, up 138 per cent since 1979 (which doesn’t even take into account overall income from sources beyond wages). 

The working class has never been more productive, yet they’ve seen next to none of those profits. 

Many workers have also learned that stressing themselves to go above and beyond what is required has very few tangible benefits, except maybe an increased risk of heart disease and early death. It has been shown time and time again that longer working hours don’t equate to more productive output. Not only that, but working harder isn’t even the best way to earn a promotion. Workers in gig and minimum-wage positions are often left high and dry with no job protection, a reality which countless people came face to face with during the pandemic. In many cases, employers schedule workers 39.5 hours per week to avoid classifying them as full-time, and as such, dodge the annoying responsibility of providing benefits, vacation time, and leaves of absence. 

Quiet quitting in capitalist collapse

It’s not that workers are built differently compared to 50 years ago, that they simply lack the grit and wherewithal to manage challenging situations—to just get up and work, if you will. They’re at the epicenter of the most monumental crisis of capitalism in recent memory, particularly following the 2008 financial crash. They’re living through an epoch of crumbling social infrastructure, rising costs of living, the reality that they may not be able to afford to have children or a house of their own, the climate crisis, and a criminally mismanaged pandemic where they saw their health and well-being offered as blood sacrifice to the altar of capital so that billionaires could keep lining their pockets.

The idea of “getting on that grind”, “hustling all day”, and “sleeping when you’re dead” is not appealing. They want to live while they’re alive, and have little faith in the capitalists to make that possible. So, they’re “quietly quitting”, and taking back time and energy that has been leached out of them by a parasitic ruling class. 

The bosses’ response

As more and more workers “act their wage”, the bosses tremble with disgust at the mere thought of employees pushing back against their god-given right to unquestioned exploitation and authority. During the pandemic, workers at home have been subject to surveillance state-esque policies to help ensure that even in their own homes they are being exploited to the greatest possible degree. Facial recognition, keystroke and mouse movement tracking, and minute-by-minute audio and video recording are just a few of the ways employers place their workers under constant scrutiny. Instead of spending so much time making sure their workers are chained to their computers, maybe the bosses could actually do some work themselves! 

Not all bosses are as heavy-handed policing their workers, however. Some attempt to buy back loyalty and smooth over inherent class contradictions. Arianna Huffington is also the founder of Thrive Global, a behavior-change company which targets corporations to help them transform the mental health of employees and, of course, improve their productivity. Thrive Global offers software that allows workers to track their mental resilience and build 60-second resets into their workdays to help manage stress. After public outcry at the sweatshop-like conditions within Amazon warehouses that forced workers to urinate in bottles and garbage cans, the company installed coffin-like “ZenBooths” for overworked staff to sit next to a fake plant and participate in guided meditation. 

If all else fails, and capitalists are still faced with the imminent threat to life (profits) and limb (control) by way of quiet quitting, they can simply lay off the offending parties, chalking it up to “managerial restructuring” and “constructive dismissal.” It’s not as if the bosses are strangers to termination without cause. 

Pizza parties and five minute yoga breaks aren’t enough and aren’t fooling anyone. Workers are not quiet quitting because they don’t have enough time to breathe deeply or practice gratitude. They are quiet quitting because of the inescapable failures of capitalism. 

A way forward

The large number of people identifying with the idea of quiet quitting indicates a growing discontent with the conditions of capitalism in general; a discontent with capitalists privately hoarding profits and increasing their wealth, while the working class finds itself in deeper and deeper poverty. Weak reforms, disdainfully handed out as if they were crumbs thrown at hungry rats in the sewers, are no longer sufficient to keep workers content with their increasingly inhumane conditions. 

While quiet quitting is not exclusive to office workers in downtown skyscrapers sitting in a cubicle, it is noteworthy that the phenomenon has been making a public appearance in traditionally white-collar industries. Historically, unionization has been associated with blue-collar workers, reserved for the industrial and public sectors. In recent years, however, unions are being established at tech, video game, and media companies, despite the best efforts of union-busting management, who have been confronted with the reality that having a ping-pong table at the office doesn’t cut the mustard anymore. 

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that more and more workers are interested in joining a union regardless of industry. The past decade has been marked with worldwide outbursts of revolution, political polarization, and increasing distrust in the institutions that were once foundational to keeping the peace of society. The wheezing death rattle of capitalism continues to be heard around the globe and can only be ignored for so long. 

Striketober, a wave of industrial action that swept the United States last October and saw over 100,000 workers participate, the strikes of teachers across traditionally conservative states in 2018, and successful grassroots unionizations at Amazon warehouses and Starbucks across the country show that the working class is willing and able to fight. 

Organized labour isn’t new to the concept of quiet quitting. Completing work down to the letter of a contract is a militant union tactic known as “work to rule,” and has been around for over a hundred years. By refusing to complete ad-hoc and out of contract tasks, strictly adhering to workplace safety and labour laws, and not working overtime, employees send the message that they have the power to slow productivity to a crawl. They remind the bosses that they need the workers, not the other way around. 

The difference between quiet quitting and work to rule lies in organization. While quiet quitting is individualized and without fanfare, collective workplace action, such as work to rule, is designed to be loud, confronting, and impossible to ignore. 

Given the widespread response to quiet quitting, it’s clear that it is not some isolated fringe of individuals who are frustrated, but a broad layer of the working class who are looking for ways to push back against the bosses. The best way to do this is with organized, collective action. The working class will not be free until they have control of their workplaces, until they decide how they should ultimately be run—and workers must unite with others who feel the same way. We are stronger together and must turn to increasingly militant, collective action if we hope to win our demands. 

The working class should reject quietly quitting in favour of loudly fighting back, loudly demanding living wages, humane conditions, and democratic workplaces, and, if the bosses choose not to comply, loudly striking until they do.