Workers Getting Laid Off Are Fighting Back

Spare me your platitudes

Workers Getting Laid Off Are Fighting Back
Photo by Jonathan Tomas / Unsplash

I come from a long line of German workers who had the benefit of stable jobs and professions all their life. I grew up working in America so my experiences are quite different that my late father and his German family. I've been survived through many layoffs and numerous organizational restructuring; many of my cherished coworkers did not.

It's one thing to quit a job and move on to another, but it's entirely another thing to be blindsided by a layoff when upper level management is celebrating record profits. Something doesn't compute anymore, and workers are waking up. They're getting laid off and are fighting back.

In this TikTok video, Account Executive Brittany Pietsch knows she's about to get laid off and records the entire interaction. It's well worth the 9 minute watch and you can hear how HR keeps speaking in platitudes like "we understand how you're feeling" and other pyschobabble.

0:00
/9:16

What I love about this terrible situation is that she fights back. HR opens the conversation with "we're letting you go because of poor performance" to which she asks for examples of her poor performance. She concedes that she is a new hire and was on a 3 month ramp up with a short selling month of December, but where was this poor performance?

She tells them that her manager had no performance issues with her, her selling metrics showed she was a top performer, and she wasn't put on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP). So why the layoff?

Indeed, why the layoff? My guess is that Cloudflare over hired and is just looking to slash headcount to save money. Capitalism strikes again and Brittany feels the cut of it's sharp blade as they cut headcount to maximize shareholder profit.

The economy is doing great! Or is it?

Right now the economy is looking better for Wall Street. Chairman Powell has raised interest rates to tame inflation at the expense of workers. Record low interest rates from the 2007/2008 market implosion, followed by the COVID-19 pandemic created an era of cheap money that many business took advantage of.

The took that easy capital and injected it into the economic system. This created inflation because suddenly you had a lot of money chasing too few goods. Prices shot up but if you were on the front end of that easy capital, you made out good. The trickle down effect of all this easy money was that Main Street saw insane price hikes.

Personally, I watch the price the eggs. Prior to the pandemic, eggs were averaging $1.53 per dozen (December 2019) across the nation. After the pandemic it peaked at $4.83 (January 2023). Roughly speaking that's over a 200% increase in price over a period of 2 years.

(c) FRED data

200%! When was the last time you got a 200% raise? My guess, never.

The price of eggs in December 2023 was $2.51 a dozen, that's still a 64% price increase from right before the pandemic.

Let me rephrase my question, when was the last time you got a 64% raise?

The economy is doing great if you're an investors or shareholder. You're reaping the profits of these sky high prices. Of course the "inputs" to your product have gone up in price too but companies trickle those costs down to the end consumers. Everyone plays "hot potato" with higher prices until it gets tossed to you, then it's "see ya later bye!" You end up paying for the easy money that the Federal Reserve created.

Modern Late Stage Capitalism

There's a term that seeks to understand where Capitalism is failing today. It has it's roots in post World War II when it was first coined by Ernest Mandel in his book "Late Capitalism." He sought to understand the "important qualitative changes (sic: that) occurred within the capitalist system during and after World War II and that there are limits to capitalist development" - via Wikipedia.

Today it's referred as Modern Late Stage Capitalism or Late Stage Capitalism for short and is often defined as:

A viewpoint of "radical philosophy" is that "Capitalism, in its orthodoxy, is a system that relies on authoritative, controlling, and exploitative relationships, most notably between that of capitalists and workers", and that this is not something that emerges out of a devolving system but rather is present in the framework of the system itself. - via Wikipedia

How true this is. In my time on this earth as a working man from age 16 to now, I've seen the working environment shift in favor of the corporations and away from workers and the public.

Gone are the days when workers and their employers worked and benefitted together, instead today we have an adversarial relationship. Corporations actively seek out ways to exploit workers and then toss them when no longer needed. They provide just the bare minimum benefits to attract workers and then lay them off when they need to make the shareholders happy. It's truly exploitative and frightening.

These are human beings after all, why are we treating them like expendable meat bags? Because that's what we are to them, interchangeable labor units. Not Sally from Accounting or Joe from floor. We're just nameless labor units to swap out when they get too expensive or want more.

Then if workers unionize, fight back, or demand that salaries are posted, the corporate establishment freaks out and screams "no one wants to work anymore." They scream about the free market but forget that the free market goes both ways. They talk of building businesses but don't want anyone to shine a light on their dark and dystopian ways.

Being in the room for a layoff

I remember the moment I swung far left for Worker's Rights and questioned what I was taught in MBA school. It happened the day I was asked to be in the room with HR when they laid off a colleague of mine.

Times were getting tough where I was working and the contracts were dwindling. It's the nature of the industry I was in that 12 to 18 months after a recession our clients would typically stop requesting bids on transportation projects. I was a department manager at the time and had a little bit of work left to farm out to my direct reports and others in the office.

My colleague worked in a different group and was light on work so it was decided that they help me out with some basic drafting work and pulling together plan work. This person was young and about a year and half out of school, full of energy and excitement to tackle great projects.

I gladly gave them work to do because I enjoyed working with all my colleagues but I knew it was a race against time. Sooner or later what remaining work I had would be complete and there wasn't any new work coming through the door. You can't remain "unbillable" for long before the axe comes for you.

Well it came for this person a few months later and HR called me into the room with them as they laid them off. I could see the look on their face as they tried to process what was happening. They were newly married and had just bought a house. They were building a life with their partner only to have that dream get blown up in a 15 minute meeting.

My heart sank for this person and I couldn't believe that just like that, they had no more income, no more health benefits, no more 401k. Just like that it was like "thanks for your service but you gotta go."

I don't remember the details of a severance package (if any) my former colleague was offered but I couldn't sleep for days after that. If the company could do that to them, what could the do to me?

Protect yourself and fight back

I realized something important that day, corporations don't give a shit about you. They brainwash you with mission statements and demand loyalty from you, but offer none in return. If they could get away with paying in eggs or food, they would, and they're constantly "optimizing" the minimum benefits and salaries they can offer you.

After that day I started to put a plan into motion where I would work hard to protect myself in case of an unforeseen layoff. I worked hard to maximize my benefit and salary over the years and pay down debt and other liabilities. I'm by no means done with this process but I feel like I've built a small defense. Along with my partner, we have each other's back against in this crazy late stage capitalistic world.

We've built friendships and formed our tribe of people that we can barter and trade with if we have too. We look out for each other because the only way we can protect ourselves from the onslaught of corporate capitalism is to band together and fight if we have too.

I don't know what will happen to Brittany after her layoff but I like her. She's fiesty and demands answers. She doesn't let them off the hook and she shares her story with the world in an attempt to show the horrors of corporate capitalism and hold them accountable. We need more men and women of her caliber to defend the line and fight back.

Now, more than ever, these dystopian ways are being exposed and we can learn from this to build a better world. We need a Worker's Bill of Rights. A Bill of Rights that decouples healthcare from employment and has generous family and medical leave. One that protects workers if they get laid off because a company miscalculated demand, and so much more.

How will we pay for this? Simple, take it from the shareholder and tax corporations their fair share. Everyone needs to pay into the kitty, not just workers.

I believe that we can get this done.