Ms. Green’s response was unsparing. “You’re absolutely right that there’s a respect gap in this situation — but it’s from you toward your employees,” she wrote. “Somewhere along the way, you picked up a very warped idea of what employees owe their employers,” she continued. Like a “see you never” text tempered by white-collar careerism, it summoned the repressed dream of giving that speech, or sending that email — the one the manager can’t ignore, that says you cannot treat people this way.
According to Ms. Green, the post more than doubled her site’s daily traffic and received more than a thousand comments within an hour of publication. “I’ve had letters like that fairly regularly for years,” she said. Her general approach to answering them hasn’t changed. What has, she said, are her readers.
“It’s almost like there’s a mob energy out there,” she said.
The real story of what’s happening to the American worker right now is still being written, but the stories they want to be told are being published daily. They share a theme: Finally, we’ve got a little bit of leverage, and, wow, wouldn’t it feel good to use it? Readers pumping their fists along to a delicious takedown of a patronizing district manager are enjoying a rare moment of solidarity in an otherwise alienating period. They’re allowing, if only briefly, the intrusion of thoughts that they hadn’t allowed themselves to entertain before. Some people are even acting on them (“this subreddit finally gave me the motivation”).
Meanwhile, the community, which is approaching a million members, is also figuring out what, and whom, it’s really for. Some of the debates are reminders that r/antiwork is a forum like any other, doomed to become mired in managerial disputes of its own, trapped within a commercial platform where many of the other fastest-growing communities are full of day-traders and crypto enthusiasts. Others represent clumsy but earnest attempts at group definition by people who seem to realize just how much energy is around them.
A post called “WAGES! How much do you make?” has more than 18,000 responses. Another demanding that people “Keep politics out of this sub” triggered a surprisingly welcoming debate about whether that would even be possible. Retro editorial cartoons are shared alongside hyper-referential memes, between statistics about the wealth gap and updates about union drives at Amazon. One thread cautions the subreddit against becoming too “communist”; another asks, “Is this sub becoming too moderate/right wing, instead of embracing worker solidarity and radical revolution?” Commenters who question the veracity of just-so quitting texts are informed, in some cases by group moderators, that they’re missing the point.
It’s possible, as with so many other viral trends, that all this content is just another example of new media meeting its moment — the Covid era’s exhausted, fed-up take on the Horatio Alger stories, in which the protagonist always walks.