Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Act Your Wage, Not Your Boot Size

How American Workers are Quietly Raging Against the Machine

Rachel Wayne
9 min readSep 6, 2022


The workforce has been on an emotional rollercoaster since the pandemic began. As countless businesses were shuttered, many people found themselves laid-off or furloughed. Others quit to avoid contact with plague-bearing anti-maskers.

Either way, people were out of work. One might imagine they’d be desperate to find a job — any job. Instead, there was a wave of resignations and a vocal aversion to work. Pundits fretted over an apparent epidemic of laziness. Employers thew an unprecedented number of pizza parties, desperate to retain their skeleton crews.

And as those who remained employed began setting boundaries to ward off inevitable burnout, a new phenomenon arose: “quiet quitting.” Clocking out as soon as one’s shift ended and refusing to do unpaid work were the final signs of the impending workocalypse — all orchestrated by the entitled younger generations.

But while businesses were hand-scribbling “no one wants to work” signs and whining about wages, the working class was waking up. The pandemic threw wage suppression and exploitative labor practices into sharp relief. As they pushed back, the corporate rulers launched a culture war.

Their goal? To convince workers that they were indebted to their employers, and that asking for sustainable compensation and better conditions was socialism, millennial entitlement, and against all things holy.

A Brief History of the COVID Labor Battles

The U.S. federal government passed the CARES Act, which sent out stimulus checks, expanded unemployment insurance, and created the Paycheck Protection Program. It was a clear message to businesses everywhere: Workers deserve to have a job, and if they don’t, they need income until they find one.

Well, many unscrupulous employers did not like that. They took their PPP loans but didn’t retain their payroll. They balked at the idea of a higher wage even as the cost of goods skyrocketed. As the world slowly opened back up, the propaganda machine began spinning madly.

First, it was the idea that “no one wants to work.” Employers blamed the extended…



Rachel Wayne

Artist/anthropologist/activist writing about art, media, culture, health, science, enterprise, and where they all meet. Join my list: