On Sept. 8, 2022, YES! Executive Editor Evette Dionne hosted a conversation with three contributors to our “Work” issue:
- Chris Winters, a senior editor at YES! who specializes in covering democracy and the economy. He has been a journalist for more than 20 years, writing for newspapers and magazines in the Seattle area. Chris has covered everything from city council meetings to natural disasters, local to national news, and has won numerous awards for his work.
- Nicole Froio, a Colombian-Brazilian reporter, researcher, and translator based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She writes about myriad topics, including but not limited to social justice, feminism, digital cultures, and pop culture.
- Anne Vilen, who writes about child care, education, and mental health from her home in Asheville, North Carolina. Previously, she taught middle school, coached school leaders, and wrote for the education nonprofit EL Education. Her books include We Are Crew: A Teamwork Approach to School Culture.
Evette Dionne: Good afternoon, and welcome to “YES! Presents Reimagining Work.” A conversation with three contributors to our new Work Issue. I’m excited to be here with today’s panelists, who each bring their own rich and nuanced perspective on the topic of work, what it means, how we value it, and whether we should abolish it all together.
I’m Evette Dionne, Executive Editor at YES! Media, a nonprofit, reader-supported publisher of Solutions Journalism for more than 25 years. YES! is based in the Seattle area, which is the ancestral land of the Coast Salish People, specifically the Duwamish and Suquamish Tribes. I invite you to read our full land acknowledgement on the About Page of our website, at yesmagazine.org/about. As you saw when you registered for this event, our events are open to everyone, whether they can pay for a ticket, or not. But so far in support of this event, many of you have already given to get us over halfway to our total goal, which will keep our events in journalism open to all. By the end of this panel, I hope each of you will be inspired to give whatever is meaningful to you to support the future of YES!’s work.
So without further ado, it is my pleasure to introduce our guests. First up, we have Chris Winters, who’s a Senior Editor at YES! covering democracy and the economy. In his more than 25 years as a journalist for newspapers and magazines, Chris has covered everything from city council meetings to natural disasters, local to national news, and has won numerous awards for his work. In this issue, Chris wrote the central framing article, helping us understand how we got to where we are with work, by examining the past, present, and future of work. Thank you so much for joining us today, Chris.
Chris Winters: Thank you.
Evette Dionne: Next, I’m so excited to have Nicole Froio joining us today. Nicole is a Columbian/Brazilian reporter, researcher, and translator based in Rio de Janerio, Brazil. She writes about a myriad of topics, including but not limited to social justice, feminism, digital cultures, and pop culture. In our new issue, Nicole lays out the case for abolishing work altogether, and explains why it’s not as far-fetched as it might seem. Her article is fittingly titled, “The Future of Work is No Work.” Welcome, Nicole.
And finally, I’m pleased to introduce Anne Vilen, who writes about childcare, education, and mental health from her home is Asheville, North Carolina. Previously she taught middle school, coached school leaders, and wrote for the education nonprofit “EL Education.” Her books include, We are Crew: A Teamwork Approach to School Culture. In our fall issue, Anne explores the emerging solutions to help support in-home childcare providers, who are often excluded from larger structural benefits systems, but who provide a crucial service as the title of her piece shows: “Childcare: Invaluable and Under-Valued.” Thank you so much for being here, Anne.
And welcome to all of our panelists. So let me start with our first question. I want to begin here, and this goes to everyone on our panel. If you had to pinpoint a single thing about our collective relationship to work right now, what would it be? What should we all be paying attention to as it relates to labor?
Nicole Froio: I can start, I can go first. Thank you so much, Evette, for that lovely introduction. And I’m so glad that I was invited to come here and talk about the abolition of work. I am extremely passionate about the idea of abolishing work.
Because I have a background in gender studies. And my first — this will relate to your question, by the way— but, my first experience with talking about the coercive nature of work and capitalism was through feminism. So if you’re asking me now what should we be paying attention to, how much of the work that we do everyday is coercive? Which part of it do you do, and you’re just a bit like, “I don’t want to do this.” And which ones are actually the ones that bring you joy? Because from then, I think, we can really start thinking of things that we want to do, because we want to do them, not because we want to earn a wage. So I think that would be my answer.
Chris Winters: I would build off of what Nicole just said, and say that work is essentially a function of energy. And what we do for work is how we apply that energy, and toward what. And in our current economic system of capitalism, the answer is more often than not toward making somebody else getting rich. And it’s not for our own benefit. So I think thinking about it in terms of where are we putting this energy? Where are we putting our time? Spending our time? Is fundamental to looking at, if we’re going to look at changing the structure of work, then start at that very baseline there.
Anne Vilen: I guess I would take a little bit different approach. Again, delighted to be here with this great panel. Your question, Evette, was what is our collective relationship to work? And what I would encourage us to pay attention to is that word, collective. That we are all in this together. And the childcare solution that I write about in this issue is a good example of what many people these days are calling a mutual aid society. Really paying attention to how the work that we do is supported by the work that other people are doing, and supports the work that other folks are doing. So we really are all connected.
And in the case of childcare workers, they are the workforce behind the workforce. And without them, 30% of the American economy, that our parents would not be working, or would not be as productive, and maybe as happily working, meaningfully working, as they are able to do, because of those childcare workers behind the scenes. So thinking about, I think maybe the transformation that enables everyone to do more meaningful work, or not work, depends on us recognizing and valuing the work that others around us are doing.
Evette Dionne: Thank you all for sharing. I’m actually going to answer a question, or ask a question from our audience ahead of time, because I think it’s essential for how we continue with the conversation. It comes from Karen. And the question is, “I would like to hear some general agreement about what is meant by work?” So what do we mean when we’re saying “Work?” Which sets us up to then have the rest of this conversation.
Nicole Froio: That’s actually really important, right? And I was actually just thinking that as Anne was talking about care work, and childcare, specifically. I think that we have to, and this was one of the things that inspired me to actually write about no work, or abolishing work. It’s because the definition that we have of work is very heteropatriarchal. It’s working outside of the home. It’s going off-site to earn a wage rather than, for example, domestic work. All the work that we do to actually maintain ourselves as workers. So that was one of the main inspirations for me, that I was noticing that work inside the home wasn’t really being noticed as work, or isn’t. It’s not historically noticed as work. And so from that, from then on, I started to challenge my own definition of work. And how my domestic work, and my work outside the home, even though I work from home, relates to my domestic work, and how that builds capitalism. So when you were saying childcare workers are the workers behind the workforce. That’s very much a baseline that we all have to agree on is, there’s work going on inside the home. There’s work going on to prepare workers for the future, which is childcare, right? That’s how capitalism sees it. So I would say, that’s a really good question. And for me, I see work as domestic work, and also work outside the home.
Anne Vilen: I would also …
Evette Dionne: Anne, go ahead.
Evette Dionne: I was going to say if Anne or Chris wanted to contribute further than that, so go ahead, Chris.
Chris Winters: I would just add very briefly that, yeah, work is how we spend our time, essentially. Invest that energy. And whether that time is being spent, or that energy is contributed to going into an office, or working within the home, for example, or performing some other task that is expending that energy and taking up the time of our days, then yes, that’s work. And we don’t recognize all forms of work equally, nor reward them equally for sure. So yeah, that’s pretty much expanding on what Nicole said, and what I said earlier, too, about energy.
Anne Vilen: I just love Chris’ question, how do you spend your time? As opposed to, what do you do for a living? Or what do you do for money? I think traditionally we have defined work as the thing that you get paid for. I sit now in a very interesting place, in that work ecosystem. As a person who has worked for pay for 40 years, and now at 62 is sort of has left the full-time remote paid workplace to work in a freelance capacity, and also to volunteer a tremendous amount of my time, probably more than I spend working for pay, doing work that is super, super-meaningful to me. And it is care work. And that I know contributes to the capacity for others to work and to be paid for their work. So, it’s an interesting question, what is work? I think it has to do with meaning, and enabling others to thrive in their lives. Which might be care work, and it might be running a business. It could be any of the things that people do for pay. But also many things that people do for no pay.
Evette Dionne: Thank you all for sharing. It really helps set up context for the rest of this conversation we’re going to have. So thank you also for your question, Karen. Nicole, I wanted to start with you, actually. Your piece opens with an incredible lead. I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to read it to you. And that line is, “If we were not required to work to pay for basic rights, such as food, shelter, and water, could we embrace radical solutions to change the current state of our society?” And so my question to you is, could we? And if so, what would it look like to abolish work?
Nicole Froio: That’s a really good question. And that is actually a question that is super open-ended. And that I’ve been thinking about for maybe a couple of years now. What I say, so for my piece I interviewed Bob Black, who identifies as a postanarchist-leftist. And he wrote the original, The Abolition of Work. So he wrote the essay, and then he wrote a book about it. And so he gives us a lot of clues about what that would look like. It’s not something that’s fully flushed out that I can tell you. Like, well, it’ll work like this. You’ll get this, and then you’ll do this. But, the dream to me is that instead of putting energy into, for example, doing a report at work, or filing documents, being a bureaucrat, all of that stuff. Instead of that, we could focus our energies on, taking care of each other. So what would that look like?
If I didn’t have to work as a freelance journalist, I would have more time to, for example, cook dinner for my wife, take my dog for a walk. I would be more available to go to community meetings, and do some more organizing. So that’s, when we were talking about abolishing work, it doesn’t mean that then we would just be doing nothing. It means that we would be able to allocate the energy that Chris talks about into more meaningful parts of our lives. Because as it stands right now, because we all need to, not all, but most of us need to earn a wage to feed ourselves, clothe ourselves, have a roof over our heads, that’s actually getting in the way of us connecting with each other. Because how many of us don’t see our friends for weeks and weeks because we don’t have the time, we don’t have a schedule that actually matches with theirs, because we’re all adults, and we all have jobs. It gets in the way of our relationships. It gets in the way of caring for each other in a full holistic present way.
So that’s how I envision it. I envision it as a community where all we care about is each other, rather than money, paying rent, bills, all that stuff. No, we would care about each other. What do you need? How are you? Like actually, how are you? Not just like small talk before a meeting. So yeah, that’s it, that’s my answer.
Evette Dionne: Thank you, Nicole. As a followup to that, both you and Chris, one of the things that both of your pieces share in common is that you both write about what has been labeled The Great Resignation, which as Chris highlights in his piece, describes the more than 47 million people in the United States who voluntarily quit their jobs in 2021. I’ve also been following some recent reporting about what people are calling quiet quitting. Or as I personally been framing it, doing your job and going home. So it seems that we’re being encouraged to shift our relationship to work overall, and to our jobs. Why is that? Chris, if you had to guess, based on your reporting, what is undergirding our evolving relationship to work?
Chris Winters: I think a couple of things. For one, I think this has been going on longer than it has been just for the past couple of years. I think the pandemic, for one, really put a lot of things into sharp relief. And made very visible a lot of the problems that were endemic to our system, our economic system. And that was also when people were, suddenly a lot of people were having to sit at home. Others were labeled essential. And they ended up being treated rather poorly because they didn’t get the benefits, or the protections that they otherwise would have needed. So I think that put a lot of the discrepancies that we’ve been dealing with into sharp relief.
But I also think that this has been building for quite a while. And if you look at early signs, the whole idea of a workplace wellness program is a relatively new invention. And it seems to have been invented to address the fact that people don’t like working in these places generally. And that the people are trying to figure out how to retain their workers. There’s a lot of talk about, even in business spaces, about where do you get your people. And you want to get the talented people for your company. So you find them. And sometimes that means taking them from another company. And so there’s this, it’s treating workers as commodities, essentially, at a very macro level, is what it is. And people have been feeling that, and they don’t like being treated as commodities. So I think there’s a lot of that, that has built up gradually over the years. And then when COVID hit, and suddenly it was like people, not just had time to think about it and say, “Hey, I don’t like being a commodity, and being a pawn in this system, I want to do something different.” But also, even if they weren’t thinking about it in those terms, that they were also realizing that, You know what? What I’ve been spending my life doing so far, really sucks. I want to do something different. I don’t know what that is yet, but I’m going to figure it out. And it provided just that kick in the butt some of us needed to get out the door, and look at it, and say, “Hey, I’m done with this. Take this job and shove it” mentality.
Evette Dionne: Indeed. Anne, when we think about what Chris and Nicole mentioned around what we’ve been calling, culturally, The Great Resignation, we don’t often include caretakers. Especially parents of small children, and outside childcare providers, which is what you discussed in your piece. And it seems as if this overlooking and undermining really hit a breaking point during the pandemic, where there was this deluge of reporting about people just being up to the hilt around just overlooking and undermining. So has there been a renewed focus on this unequaled distribution of work critically as it relates to domestic work and childcare, specifically? And if so, where do you see that conversation going, moving forward?
Anne Vilen: It’s a really good question. I think there has been a renewed focus, and also a continued stalemate in the public conversation about childcare. I guess the first thing I would say about it is, my vision of what does the world without work look like? If it includes children, it includes work. And it is not all just let’s just go do things that are meaningful and fun for us all the time. I just think that parenting is really work. And increasingly, we live in a world where there will be increasing pressures on all of us, as a result from climate change, and over-population, and immigration, and all the things that are happening in the world right now. There is a hell of a lot of work to do, in order to, as Nicole said, take care of each other. So I don’t think the future of work reimagined is all rosy and pleasant. But I do think that it needs to recognize, really recognize, and value those essential workers. So for me it is more about balancing the economy in a way that those on the bottom, currently on the bottom, are lifted up, so that everyone has a greater capacity to participate in the work, and to help sustain the planet and the people on it.
Evette Dionne: Thank you for that, Anne. As a quick reminder to folks, please drop your questions in the Q&A box, if you have questions. We will be getting to them shortly, in a little less than 10 minutes.
Chris, in your piece you write, “Today the workplace remains dehumanizing. Even with more labor protections in place, than in eras past.” You would think that more labor protections would equal more dignity as it relates to work. Why has that not been the case?
Chris Winters: I think what is going on with that issue is that we’ve found new ways to make people feel undignified. And I think part of that is what I alluded to earlier, about the commodification of us as workers is that what with capitalism, the economic system in which we’re operating is really, it’s exploitative, but that it’s extractive. And what it is, it’s fundamentally, it’s an evolution of former economics, previous economic systems of slavery and feudalism. And that, centered around ownership. Whereas slavery was ownership of people, and feudalism was based on ownership of land, this is about ownership of wealth. But the fundamental dynamic that we have there is the same. Some people have the ownership, and some people do not have the ownership of that resource.
And so, I think that the workplace, the benefits that we’ve accrued over recent history, in the 40 hour work week, the weekend, providing benefits like vacation and things like that, these are stopgap efforts. These are little Band-Aids that we have been putting on the problem all along, without fundamentally addressing the baseline issue of work is something that we do to get enough capital so that we can come back the next day and do it again. Instead of work that builds us up and nurtures us, and it’s something that we can pay forward, and leaves us feeling whole, rather than just ground underneath the millstone of time as we go along. So I think that anything that we do that isn’t looking at that fundamental system is going to not really feel much more, it might feel better momentarily, but eventually it’s like, yeah, we’re still a cog in a machine, aren’t we?
Anne Vilen: Can I? I really want to jump in on that statement, Chris. Just talk about it in terms of childcare. That sort of slave history that you talk about in your piece is so relevant with childcare. Because we still live in a world where women of color are disproportionately taking care of all of our children. And white people’s children, right? And in many who are not first language speakers of English. So those, the ways in which they are excluded from the paid workforce right up front are really a problem. And then, once those folks get into the workforce, they don ’t have the same access to the pay scale that other folks do. They don’t have the same access to benefits. Things like paid time off, or healthcare, or a retirement fund. Those don’t even exist for the majority of childcare workers today. So addressing that imbalance is just critical to making the workplace a more humane place for everyone. And including addressing all of those ways in which folks are excluded from the workforce would also make it easier on everyone else. So there’s less work to go around.
Evette Dionne: Thank you both for sharing. I’m actually coming back to both of you. Nicole, if you want to chime in here, as well. There’s a small section in your piece, Chris, about the relationship between being overworked and developing health problems. So you mention that combining the burnout of overworking with the discrimination of micro-aggressions that people, particularly people of color, people from marginalized communities are experiencing. That there becomes a higher possibility of developing chronic conditions. Chris, can you speak more about that relationship and how the different organizations that you reported on, including the Black Women’s Health Imperative, are addressing this.
And then, Anne, if you found any similar connections between being overworked, burn out, and health conditions. If you’ve found similar connections as it relates to childcare, I would love to hear from you, as well, here.
Chris Winters: Yeah, when we look at work and what it does to us physically, It effects people differently, but it’s all about, it’s that energy question. What are we putting our energy into? I, as a white man, when I’m at work, I’m able to focus almost exclusively on the task in front of my nose, which is writing an article, or editing an article, or attending a meeting. People who are not white, and people who are not white men, and people who are not cisgendered, they have other things that energy is also going to.
I think one of the sources I spoke to in my article, Angelica Geter, who is with the Black Women’s Health Imperative, basically mentions when I show up at work as a Black woman, I am representing my entire race. And that is a big burden to bear for a lot of people. And white people traditionally, don’t recognize that. They don’t see it. They don’t know it’s there. And that’s where the micro-aggressions start coming in. Even if someone is well-intentioned, they’re looking at somebody who is their co-worker, but they might not be seeing all this other thing that might be going on behind it. And they would be projecting their own views on that. And that can be really exhausting. And that exasperates health problems. And when we’re talking about marginalized communities, we’re also talking about health disparities that are pre-existing, that become exacerbated. And as you mentioned, in the Black Women’s Health Imperative, is an attempt to try and get ahead of that issue here.
A lot of companies are doing DEI, diversity, equity, and inclusion programs. They’re trying to get a little bit beyond that, recognizing the limitations of that kind of an approach. To center the voices of Black women, with an emphasis on workplace culture, workplace training, hiring, research consulting, things around that nature to kind of not just go through the motions of having a DEI program, but also having it so that it is actually, the workplace is a healthy place for women of color. That’s essentially what they’re doing. There are other groups out there that are doing it. They’re a particularly interesting one because of their narrow focus here in saying, it’s like, you’re a one-size-fits-all workplace wellness initiative isn’t going to work for all, as it is.
Evette Dionne: Nicole, my next question is coming to you. You have a phenomenal section in your piece about the end of what was dubbed “The Girl Boss Era.” And it’s so interesting because it’s not that long ago that we were celebrating these mostly white folks, mostly white women making gains in male-dominated fields. So we’re talking about everyone from the folks who ran “The Wing” to Elizabeth Holmes. So of course over time, now that we’re years removed from the beginning of that era, we’ve learned that many of those people who were founding these companies adopted many of the same oppressive, abusive tactics of the men that they were replacing, or criticizing for similar behavior. So if you had to look at the landscape of work, clearly that is not a solution to just put a women in power. But what would you say are the key lessons we should learn from that era, and how do we avoid getting ensnared in the similar kind of cultural obsession in the future as it relates to work.
Nicole Froio: That’s a really good question, and I also recently published something called “All Girl Bosses are Bastards,” which I loved the title of, and definitely would recommend that people read, because a lot of that section came from my personal experience as someone in a highly competitive environment where I was excited. I was expected to do a lot of work, and then also do a lot of domestic work, of course, because that’s part of just your life. Like you have to take care of your home, you have to clean your home. And so I think that what we have to take from that era, and what we have to understand is that the women who became girl bosses, they didn’t do it for all of our liberation.
Some women got to the top, and we’re still kind of here. We’re not liberated. So I think that’s something that we have to always remember whenever we are looking at women leaders. Whether it be in companies, or in politics, one person being there isn’t a solution. So that’s something that we have to remember all the time. Where presentation isn’t everything. And I think as well, as we move forward—I’m a feminist, I’m actually identified as an narcofeminist— and I think that as we move forward, we can simply cannot ever forget again that domestic work is work. And that is energy, those are things we have to do to survive, to help our families, to push our lives forward.
So we cannot forget that domestic work is work. To me that’s really the bottom line. And then also, of course, from that you have to extrapolate that when a girl boss gets to be a girl boss, there are women, usually racialized working-class women picking up the socks behind her, or she’s either delegating those domestic work jobs to other people. So yeah, I think that’s it. We have to remember that one person reaching a big position doesn’t necessary mean that all of us will be liberated. And that’s really important to me.
Evette Dionne: Thank you for sharing, Nicole. Last question for our collective group before we move to audience Q&A. Anne, did you want to chime in there?
Anne Vilen: Yeah, I just wanted to say that I think part of reimagining work is leveling the playing field so that those folks in domestic labor, for example, can become girl bosses. Maybe it’s reimagining girl bosses, right? So that you are centering the voices of a lot more people. Not just the hierarchical one person on the top.
And I just want to shout here the organization that I wrote about in my piece, Home Grown Childcare. Because one of the things that they do, their advocacy is really through the mechanism of lifting up the voices and the decision-making of childcare workers themselves, so that the women who are taking care of our children every day, and some of them for no pay, whatsoever. The category of workers called family, friend, and neighbor childcare workers. So this is your mother, who starts by just taking care of your two kids at home. And then your neighbor says, “Hey, could my kids come over and stay with your mother two days a week?” And then your friend says, “Hey, I hear your mom is taking care of kids at your house, can I jump in on that?” And pretty soon they’ve got five kids they’re taking care of every day of the week, possibly for no pay, certainly for very little pay. What Home Grown does is gives those folks a voice, and a part in the decision-making, about how the funding that they raise is distributed to childcare workers at home. So I think making everyone a boss is part of how we reimagine the workplace.
Evette Dionne: So final question for our panelists before we move to audience questions. If you had to think about the next five years, let’s say the next five to 10 years, do you think our collective relationship with work will continue to evolve? And if so, in what ways?
Chris Winters: Short answer, yes. Slightly longer answer, I think that the evolution will continue to be rather gradual. Short of some other tragedy coming in and disrupting things yet again in a major way. But I do think that, for example, the gig economy has been placed front and center as being a rather dysfunctional economy. So I think that we’re going to see a lot of movement toward trying to make gig economy workers get better treatment, better compensation, benefits, even. So that they’re not considered, they’re not just categorized as independent contractors so that Uber, or whoever, doesn’t have to pay them anything, any benefits. So I think that there’s a lot of movement in that particular segment. And I think that in general, people who have been in service economies are also finding new-found energy and strength. It’s very visible in things like Starbucks stores unionizing. But I think that it’s happening in a lot of different places, too. And I’ll just leave it at that.
Nicole Froio: I think I also agree with Chris. I think that yes, that we are going to continue to change our relationship with work. Or at least, that’s really what I’m hoping for. Because I really like what you said about energy, Chris. I think that we need to think about where we are putting our energies. Especially as people who want a better world. Who are we taking care of? Are we taking care of the right people? Are we in community with the right people? How does paid work actually disrupt that relationship with our communities? And how can we change that? So I think that yes, it’s going to change, I hope. And I also think that it’s going to be very, very gradual because to get up to where we are now, as you said, it was a massive buildup. And I think that, and I also hope that people will be more invested into stepping into their own autonomy as people, and not as workers. So looking at themselves and their lives as what are the meaningful things that you do? Where do you put your energy, as you say, rather than what do you do for a living? Which is a different question. So yeah.
Anne Vilen: I think one of the other things that I see changing that gives me hope is just a recognition of how we can bring together people who have different strengths and different skills into a collective that can accomplish a task in a different way. Not through a traditional hierarchical company structure. But I see this happening online. I think this is maybe one of the gifts that the pandemic has brought to us is that folks who have different contributions to make to a particular project can come together. I know all these companies now, there are no staff members. It’s all freelancers bringing different strengths to the table to achieve a goal on a project. And their relationship to each other as workers only lasts as long as that particular project. But in the process they learn different things from each other. Old folks like me maybe bring management experience and other skills that come from the history of a particular project. And then you get a 23-year-old to do all the social media stuff. People have different strengths, and if they can come together, even virtually, or in some other way to do the work of a project, as opposed to a company, then they can achieve some really remarkable things.
Evette Dionne: Thank you all so much. Oh, go ahead, Nicole.
Nicole Froio: I wanted to chime in just really quickly because what Anne said reminded me of something that Bob Black told me about how finding work, or how actually taking care of each other would work in his utopia, is that it would all be about experimentation. And people would do different things at different points because everyone has different skills to share. So I just wanted to quickly add that.
Evette Dionne: Thank you for sharing that, Nicole. We are going to move into audience Q&A now. We have one question from an anonymous attendee, who asks if our panelists can comment on the concept of a universal basic income. And whether, and how, this could tie into the topic of reimagining work.
Anne Vilen: I want to jump in on that one first. Because that, the idea of direct cash payments to an employee, to a person, in giving them the decision-making power over how they spend that income, and how they use that income to support their own labor, whatever that labor is, there’s a lot of evidence that that works, first of all. And it is absolutely the model upon which the Home Grown project to provide an income supplement, to home-based childcare workers, is based on that. It preserves the dignity of the worker, because they’re making the decision about how they spend that money. And what the evidence shows is that when the person who is receiving that income has the opportunity to thrive in their own economy, in their local economy, they spend that money well, and they use it to further their own well-being, and the well-being of people around them. I think it’s a great idea.
Chris Winters: I agree whole-heartedly. I’ll just throw in there, it applies to everyone. I think a basic income would have to be, however it’s structured—details to come—it would have to be an integral part of severing the chain that binds us to our jobs, essentially. And keeps us in the system, and maintains the system. And I think having, a worker having that kind of freedom just to say, I can actually stop working here, take time to figure out what I need to do, and then go work something else that’s going to be much more fulfilling for myself, and not have to worry about starving in the process. So yes, very much it should be a part of systemic solutions.
Anne Vilen: I also agree. I think universal basic income is an incredible solution for all the issues that we’re talking about. Particularly I think it has been suggested in the past as payment for domestic work, as well. Which I think is very interesting. Considering that there is unpaid domestic work going on. Mothers of parents are doing all this work, and they’re not getting paid for it. So it’s been suggested to me that maybe an universal basic income could actually even close the wage gap between genders as well. Because then women would be paid for the care work that they do in the home that isn’t recognized as work. So I think it’s an incredible solution. It would, as Chris said, free us to do what we actually want to do. If we want to work with our communities, we can work on our communities. If we want to do creative work that isn’t very well-paid, in the current state of work in the world, then we could do that. So yeah, I think it’s very, very interesting solution, particularly when we talk about domestic work, as well.
Evette Dionne: Thank you all. The next question comes from Beth. Beth asks, for all panelists, do you think that paths to universal healthcare is key to changing our relationship to work? Beth shares that the main reason I’m in the job that I’m in, and don’t love, is for the benefits.
Chris Winters: Yes, for all the same reasons, that basic income is essential to that. It de-shackles us from the job. And interestingly enough, the reason, I understand, I have to confirm this as maybe apocryphal, but the reason we’re depending on employers for health insurance is that they wanted it that way. The employers did. They didn’t want to give unions that power. so I will have to check the details on this, but that’s, there’s a reason, the system is not set up to our advantage, that’s for certain.
Evette Dionne: In the same vein, we’ve had several audience members ask about worker-owned, or worker-managed cooperatives as a potential evolution of work. I don’t know if our panelists have thoughts beyond what we have shared. But if folks want to talk about either the worker-owned cooperative, or someone who’s mentioning in the chat, like the Starbucks model of people get stock. But how do we think that could evolve the future of work?
Anne Vilen: Many parents participate in childcare cooperatives, for sure, I know. Even when my children were small, I was part of a childcare cooperative. Where everybody got a date night when somebody else was taking care of their kids. And it made it possible for parents of very modest incomes to still have some childcare. So it’s sort of the original model for cooperative employment systems. I think that’s a wonderful idea, and I think it’s part of how everyone becomes the boss. Because of in a cooperative, the workers themselves, are making decisions about the structures that govern the labor that they’re doing.
Nicole Froio: I agree with Anne completely. I want to mention a group here, in Brazil. By the way, I’m Brazilian. I think Evette mentioned that. But there is a movement here, it’s called the Landless Workers’ Movement. I’m sure people have heard about it. It’s very famous. But it has a worker-owned model. And so these families, they work the land, and then they sell the product here. In Rio, they sell them all over Brazil, and that’s how they make their living. So they’re working off of their land, they’re selling their land, and they are one of the biggest organic rice producers in Brazil, which is incredible, if you understand how much Latin American people actually eat rice. That’s pretty impressive. I think that would also be an incredible solution. And it’s what Anne said. Everyone becomes a boss when we’re all equal. If we’re all putting in enough work, or enough energy to thrive, it’’ great to see each other thrive, right? I think that is really the ideal world for me.
Chris Winters: Everything you said is true.
Evette Dionne: I love that, Chris. We have time for maybe two more questions. There’s one here from Kathy. I believe it’s directed towards you, Anne. But anyone in the panel can answer it. And it is, “Can you speak about what other countries outside of the United States are doing to successfully support the invaluable work parents do of raising healthy, resilient children or families? For example, Sweden has generous parental, maternity, and paternity leave. And do you foresee the possibility of a four day work week, highly recommend, in this country, so parents would have time to do the invaluable work of parenting?”
Anne Vilen: I’m not an expert of what happens in other places. But I know that many other industrialized countries, probably most, do a better job of supporting childcare then the United States does. I’m going to put a link in the chat in a minute, since I do have a good link to an article about why the United States is so far behind in the childcare business. And there has been a lot of legislation in the last year, attempts at legislation, to support paid maternity leave, paid parental leave, and other ways of supporting childcare through subsidies, federal subsidies, and so forth. And all of them have failed. And so as a result, we are back to trying to use the subsidies that are provided by the federal government, and to work them through state systems to improve the childcare system. It’s a long slog, and there is much, much work to be done.
Chris Winters: I’ll also toss in that a lot, childcare is not considered to be a commodity in many traditional societies, too. That is actually a community responsibility at the local community level in a lot of ways. And as part of communities that have organized at the village level, for example, it is what villages do. They raise themselves up, and it’s when we start getting into the macroeconomics, where things start going haywire again. But yeah, there’s a lot of, most industrialized nations have better benefits than we do, at just about every measure.
Evette Dionne: Accurate, unfortunately. I believe this may be our last question. It comes from Steven and others who have asked, “How do we move from where we are now, a capitalist economy with some variations toward the ideals put forward?” Or as another person asked, “Are there adjustments and changes we can start to make now, that can start to move us toward the ideal future of work that has been discussed? And who would have to make those changes? Worker? Boss? Other, etc.?”
Chris Winters: That is the gazillion dollar question, isn’t it? I think that for all the focus that we have on national elections in this country, and they are important, I think that the real movement on this is going to be coming from local power. And I think that’s because there’s a lot of political power that is vested at the state level, and even at the local county level, or city level, that can be brought to bear in those directions, whether it’s supporting worker cooperatives, or trying to ensure that people don’t have health insurance. I live in Washington state, which a while ago, had a basic health insurance program for any state resident. It doesn’t anymore. There’s occasional talk of bringing it back. And I think that if there were enough people in local power positions who are in favor of, that we could do that. So I think that’s where a lot of the potential power is, that can be executed. And work from there, upwards, would be the ultimate goal.
Anne Vilen: I would add to that, that I think one of the first steps maybe is each of us recognizing our own value in the economy and in the work ecosystem. And asking for what we need. I think the pandemic has pushed people in that direction. And that many more people are recognizing now, and speaking up, about what they believe their place is in that system. And what they deserve and what they need in order to thrive in the workplace.
Nicole Froio: I want to say two quick things to answer this question. First of all, I think we should all unionize. I know that’s very difficult to say. I think unionizing can probably bargain, we could probably bargain things from our bosses, from our employers that we can’t by ourself. So it’s that collective force, like strength in numbers. So I think focusing on unions, that is a very important part in how we get results now, or how we get results in the next couple of years. Now, I am also an anarchist, so I love to think about how we act in our own lives that can help the ways that we suffer in capitalism. So creating reading groups, where we can learn about work, the history of work, domestic work, learn about feminism, and the intersection of work. Creating communities where we can talk about this stuff openly. Thinking about collective ways to move forward, that is where I would invest all my energies.
Evette Dionne: Thank you so much, Chris, Nicole, and Anne. Your insight during this panel has been absolutely invaluable. And it’s been a joy to hear from each of you today. In the meantime, I hope you’ll check out the work issue. If you don’t already have a copy, you can subscribe to get one at yesmagazine.org/subscribe, or even better, support the future of YES!’s work, by joining our Dedicated Friends, who give monthly at yesmagazine.org/donatework. And as a benefit, you’ll get a free ongoing subscription to YES! Thank you so much to everyone here for joining us, and may you all have a joyful rest of your day. Thank you, good bye.