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Bosses Hate This One Trick

Work-to-rule is not walking away from a fight, but a different way to fight.


Illustration by Terry Laban

work • to • rule


1. a disruption of operations in which workers intentionally do the precise bare minimum — down to the ​“rule”

“Work-to-rule is not walking away from a fight, but a different way to fight.” — Labor activist Jerry Tucker

Is work-to-rule the same as ​“quiet quitting”?

Yes and no. Quiet quitting entered the discourse this year as a successor to the Great Resignation, and both phrases respond to a deep anxiety that a strong labor market is actually allowing workers to — gasp — get paid more and refuse uncompensated work. 

But work-to-rule is a deliberate strategy unions have employed for decades to draw attention to grievances from protesting workers. Where strikes and walkouts can be risky (or unlawful), work-to-rule is theoretically unpunishable — because workers simply do exactly what they’re paid for.

+ How can I work-to-rule at my job?

Much like declaring bankruptcy, it doesn’t work if you just shout out your intentions.

It’s best undertaken as part of an organizing campaign to increase leverage against your boss. Are you expected to show up 20 minutes early to do unpaid prep? Your mornings are now for coffee and contemplation. Have unfinished work you usually take home? Get ready for an evening of Netflix and chill. Pesky paperwork getting you down? Start dotting your I’s and crossing your T’s.

+ Is it effective?

Like any job action, there’s no guarantee. But work-to-rule has been deployed successfully across industries throughout the decades, especially when traditional strikes aren’t an option.

In 1938, French railway workers barred from striking instead seized on a law requiring train engineers to consult crew members if there was any doubt about a bridge’s safety. Crew members began scrutinizing every bridge, incurring massive train delays and therefore gaining negotiating power.
In the 1980s, when United Auto Workers realized during contract negotiations that manufacturers were trying to provoke workers into striking — to permanently replace them with scabs — the union turned to work-to-rule, throwing production into chaos and winning a 36% wage bump over three years at one plant.

Teachers, including in Oakland, Calif., have repeatedly used work-to-rule to shine a light on the amount of unpaid labor required to keep schools running in an era of privatization and disinvestment.

There’s nothing wrong with setting better boundaries at work and maybe even making a TikTok about it. But if you really want to change your workplace (to paraphrase an old labor adage): Don’t quiet quit — organize.



At America’s biggest low-wage employers, chief executives now pocket 670 times more than their workers.

By Sam Pizzigati 

CEOs at America’s biggest low-wage employers now take home, on average, 670 times what their typical workers make.

But we don’t just get unfairness when a boss can grab more in a year than a worker could make in over six centuries. We get bungling and inefficient businesses.

Management science has been clear on this point for generations, ever since the days of the late Peter Drucker.

Management theorists credit Drucker, a refugee from Nazism in the 1930s, for laying down “the foundations of management as a scientific discipline.” Drucker’s classic 1946 study of General Motors established him as the nation’s foremost authority on corporate effectiveness.

That effectiveness, Drucker believed, had to rest on fairness.

Corporations that compensate their CEOs at rates far outpacing worker pay create cultures where organizational excellence can never take root. These corporations create ever bigger bureaucracies, with endless layers of management that serve only to prop up huge paychecks at the top.

Drucker argued that no executive should make more than 25 times what their workers earn. And, in the two decades after World War II, America’s leading corporate chiefs by and large accepted Drucker’s perspective.

Their companies shared the wealth when they bargained with the strong unions of the postwar years. In fact, notes the Economic Policy Institute, major U.S. corporate CEOs in 1965 were only realizing 21 times the pay their workers were pocketing.

Drucker died in 2005 at age 95. He lived long enough to see Corporate America make a mockery of his 25-to-1 standard. But research since his death has consistently reaffirmed his take on the negative impact of wide CEO-worker pay differentials.

The just-released 28th annual edition of the Institute for Policy Studies Executive Excess report explores these wide differentials in eye-opening detail. The report zeroes in on the 300 major U.S. corporations that pay their median workers the least.

At these 300 firms, average CEO pay last year jumped to $10.6 million, some 670 times their $24,000 median worker pay.

At over 100 of these firms, worker pay didn’t even keep with inflation. And at most of those companies, executives wasted millions buying back their own stock instead of giving workers a raise.

Just as Drucker predicted, this unfairness has led directly to performance issues. Many of our nation’s most unequal companies, from Amazon to federal call center contractor Maximus, have seen repeated walkouts and protests from justifiably aggrieved workers.

Lawmakers in Congress, the Institute for Policy Studies points out, could be taking concrete steps to rein in extreme pay disparities. They could, for instance, raise taxes on corporations with outrageously wide pay gaps.

But with this Congress unlikely to act, the new Institute for Policy Studies report also highlights a promising move the Biden administration could take on its own. The administration could start using executive action “to give corporations with narrow pay ratios preferential treatment in government contracting.”

That would amount to a major step forward, since 40 percent of our largest low-wage employers hold federal contracts. If the Biden administration denied lucrative government contracts to companies with pay gaps over 100 to 1, those low-wage firms would have a powerful incentive to pay workers more fairly.

Various federal programs already offer a leg up in contracting to targeted groups, typically small businesses owned by women, disabled veterans, and minorities.

“Using public procurement to address extreme disparities within large corporations,” the IPS report adds, “would be a step towards the same general objective.”

And a step in that direction, as Peter Drucker told Wall Street Journal readers back in 1977, would honor the great achievement of American business in the middle of the 20th century: “the steady narrowing of the income gap between the ‘big boss’ and the ‘working man.’”


Where Are All the “Pro-Worker” Republicans Now?

While employees at Amazon and Starbucks win historic unionization campaigns, the “populist” wing of the GOP has been noticeably silent.


Amazon workers are taking on the corporate elite. Republican officials are nowhere to be found. ELLIOT LEWIS 

Over the past few years, a small but highly-visible band of Republicans have publicly declared their intention to transform the GOP into a ​“worker’s party.” Sens. Marco Rubio (R‑Fla.), Josh Hawley (R‑MO), Ted Cruz (R‑Tex.) and Tom Cotton (R‑AR) have all embraced versions of this vision, part of a high-brow attempt to divorce the party from its sole adherence to pro-business conservatism.

On election night 2020, Hawley — who was elected to the Senate in 2018 after running a relatively conventional Republican campaign—declared that the GOP was ​“a working class party now. That’s the future.” Cruz and Cotton have since echoed Hawley’s populist rhetoric, the former blasting Democrats as ​“the party of the rich” while claiming for Republicans the mantle of ​“the party of the working class.” 

There has been some movement on the legislative side, too. Early last year, Cotton and Sen. Mitt Romney (R‑UT) introduced legislation to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10 an hour. Hawley’s personal crusade against Big Tech — which attracted bipartisan support before he refused to certify the 2020 presidential election and supported the insurrectionist crowd outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 — is, on its face, anti-monopolistic.

But in reality, a few policy gestures aside, their rhetoric hasn’t lived up to the hype. In recent weeks, as American workers have won a string of significant victories — organizing Starbucks coffee shops across the country and unionizing an Amazon warehouse for the first time in the company’s history — this group of supposedly ​“pro-worker” Republicans have been handed a prime opportunity to speak out in support of these organizing efforts. Instead, they’ve been silent. 

This reticence is particularly notable from Rubio, who already supported one Amazon union drive. Last year, when workers and organizers in Bessemer, Alabama, tried unsuccessfully to form a union at a local facility, Rubio penned an op-ed in USA Today effectively endorsing the efforts, writing that Amazon’s corporate behavior was ​“uniquely malicious” — a notable stand for someone who once warned that unions threatened to ​“destroy industries their workers are in.” But when it comes to the successful campaign at the JFK8 Amazon warehouse in New York, Rubio has kept mum.

[Read on]

Marx on Income Inequality Under Capitalism

By Branko Milanovic

Among those who have read Marx, it is well known that Marx was rather indifferent to the issue of inequality under capitalism. Among those who have not read him, but know the left-wing views from social-democracy and assume that Marx’s view must have been similar (but just more radical) this is not well known, nor are the grounds for such an attitude well understood.

(Marx’s views on the topic are dispersed: they are in GrundrisseThe 18th  Brumaire…CapitalCritique of the Gotha program. A very nice and succinct recent discussion can be found in Allen W. Wood’s piece “Marx on equality”.)

There are several grounds on which Marx treats inequality as we currently understand it –that is, inequality of income or wealth between individuals—as  relatively inconsequential.

The first ground has to do what is the main, as opposed to derivative, contradiction in capitalism: that between owners of capital and those who have nothing else but their labor-power. As for Ricardo, for Marx too, class determines one’s position in income distribution. Class is therefore prior to income distribution. It is the abolition of classes that matters. Engels (who certainly on this had the same opinion as Marx) wrote: “The elimination of all social and political inequality” [as stated in the social-democratic program that he is criticizing] rather than ‘the abolition of class distinctions’, is…a most dubious expression, as between one country, one province and even place and another, living conditions will always evince a certain inequality which may be reduced to a minimum but never wholly eliminated”. (Letter to August Babel) Thus, “to clamor for…equitable remuneration on the basis of the wages system is the same as to clamor for freedom on the basis of slavery” (Marx,Value, Price and Profit).

Once classes are abolished, the “background institutions” are just and this is the moment to begin any real discussion about what is a fair distribution. This is the topic about which Marx wrote relatively late in his life, in Critique of the Gotha program in 1875. He introduced there the famous distinction between the distribution of income under socialism (“to everybody according to their work”) and under communism (“to everybody according to their needs”).

Under socialism, as Marx writes, equality in treatment presupposes an original inequality because people of unequal physical or mental abilities will be rewarded unequally: ”This equal right is an unequal right for unequal labor.” (Critique..).  

Under communism, however, in a Utopia of abundance, the real equality may imply an observed inequality in consumption, as some people whose “needs” are greater decide to consume more than other  people whose “needs” are less. If in a hypothetical communist society we observe a Gini coefficient of 0.4 like in today’s United States, it tells us nothing about inequalities in the two societies—and certainly not that the two societies display the same level of inequality. In one (communism), it is voluntary inequality, in the other involuntary.

Congress Has Set the Record for Longest Stretch Without a Minimum Wage Increase

It’s costing low-paid workers thousands of dollars a year.

By Alexia Fernández Campbell

On the day of a Republican presidential debate, striking workers attend a rally in Upper Senate Park with Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., to call for a minimum wage of $15 per hour, November 5, 2015. Many of the low-wage workers hold jobs on Capitol Hill.
Capitol Hill workers rally for a $15 minimum wage on November 5, 2015, in Washington, DC.

Congress set a record this month: It’s now been more than 10 years since lawmakers have raised the federal minimum wage, the longest period in history that it’s stayed stagnant.

The current $7.25 minimum hourly rate was set in 2009, right in the middle of the Great Recession. Since then, America’s lowest-paid workers have lost about $3,000 a year when you consider the rising cost of living, according to calculations from the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute.

In 2018, about 1.7 million people were working jobs at or below the federal minimum wage. The vast majority of them are adults, not teenagers.

This chart sums up the direct impact of congressional inaction on minimum wage earners’ paychecks:

As the economy recovered from the economic downturn in the late aughts, the richest Americans have only gotten wealthier, while nearly everyone else has gotten poorer. And under the Trump administration, income inequality has gotten even worse. Compensation for CEOs has skyrocketed, while minimum wage workers in many states now need to work at least two full-time jobs to make a living.

So it’s not a surprise that McDonald’s workers have been protesting, striking, and even going to jail to get lawmakers’ attention for the past five years. In fact, fast-food workers have been instrumental in pressuring states to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. So far, seven states have.

But what they really want is for Congress to raise minimum pay in every state to $15 an hour. A McDonald’s employee from Illinois recently testified at a congressional hearing, urging lawmakers to pass a bill that would double the federal wage floor. The fact that more than 10 years have now passed since the last time lawmakers increased the rate puts renewed pressure on Congress to take action, and many say a $15 minimum wage is the most obvious solution to lift millions of families out of poverty.

[Read on]

In 2021 The International Working Class Said: STAND UP FIGHT BACK!

The year 2021 affirmed how workers worldwide are fed up with this diseased system. Capitalism functions on this logic: capitalists profit from exploitation and division, thus mangling or killing us, then use reforms to strangle any rising working-class consciousness. When we recollect that 281 million workers have been infected by Covid-19 and 5 million are dead, we realize just how deadly reforms are for our class. Nothing short of communism will immunize workers and youth from the horrors of this profit system.

U.S. President Joe Biden is giving war-mongering vibes; he signed his intentions for the New Year with a $768 billion military bill, the largest since World War II (NYT, 12/21). Goodbye 20-year war in Afghanistan, hello World War III preparation. As the U.S., China, and Russia bosses prepare to nuke it out, it will be at the expense of the working class. Haven’t workers experienced enough? Could it be that our lives only matter when bosses say they do?

The despicable ruling class pushes for us to go “back to business as usual” (see page 2) while in our schools and jobs, we are getting sick en masse, hospitals are filling up with Covid-19 infected children, evictions are coming, with police enforcement.

If we learned anything from 2021, it is that if one section of our class is under attack, that attack will soon spread to another. That is the way the infectious system of capitalism works. In order to smash Covid-19 and this racist, sexist system for good, we must think and act collectively across borders. That is what Progressive Labor Party (PLP) fights for – an international, communist world where the needs of ALL workers are primary.

Awaken ye workers—strike, rise, revolt!

As bosses are demanding  more productivity during the pandemic, workers declared NO MAS (no more) and striked against killer working conditions, turning their workplaces into schools for communism.

[Read on]

Democrats’ Inaction on Tax Credit Condemns Millions of Children to Poverty

By Kenya Elliott

Working-class families are faced with an extra burden as the new year begins – the expiration of the expanded child tax credit. The expansion provided support for families struggling during the pandemic by changing some key factors of the already existing credit. Namely, the expansion increased the annual amount per child from $2,000 to between $3,000 and $3,600, it paid the credit in monthly installments rather than in one lump sum, and it expanded the full benefits of the credit to families who previously had been ruled ineligible due to their income being too low. 

On the same day that the CTC expansion expired, there were almost 450,000 new COVID cases reported, almost double the number reported at the same time in 2021. The 7-day average was over 380,000 cases per day. The expiration of the CTC is just the latest in a wave of COVID protections that have been allowed to end, despite the fact that the pandemic is worse than ever. The Paycheck Protection program ended in March of last year, enhanced unemployment benefits ended in September, the federal eviction moratorium expired over the summer, and we haven’t received a stimulus check since the spring of 2021. 

There was an attempt to make the CTC permanent as part of Biden’s proposed social program budget, as supporters of the expansion had been hoping from its inception. In the six months since the expansion started it kept almost 4 million children out of poverty, reducing the child poverty rate by almost 30% and providing much needed aid to millions of families. However, just like how the social program budget started out with provisions that would provide funding for clean energy, free community college, paid family and sick leave and tax increases on the hyper-wealthy and corporations that were all eventually removed or drastically reduced, right-wing Democrats have stood in the way of the CTC expansion as well. 

Joe Manchin in particular is responsible for killing the CTC extension, citing racist and elitist “concerns” about what families will use the money for, along with the entirety of the social program budget. Research has shown that the CTC extension has reduced child poverty and food insecurity, and that in a time where the system is failing left and right to protect and provide for working-class people, recipients of the tax credit used it to buy food, pay rent and other bills, pay for childcare, buy clothes, create savings and pay down debt. These are all necessities that should be provided to everyone, and while the child tax credit was nowhere close to the full scope of social support that’s needed, it provided an invaluable safety net for families across the country that has now been ripped away.

Despite having control of the House, Senate and presidency, the Democrats have failed at every turn to adequately handle the COVID-19 pandemic. They have repeatedly capitulated to right-wing forces within their own party that stand opposed to instituting, or even continuing, the most meager social benefit programs. They could use their power and influence to apply pressure to Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema, and other right-wing Democrats who so clearly and blatantly work to obstruct any legislation that would benefit the working class. Instead, Biden and the Democratic Party shrink their proposed bills, remove key elements, and chip away at reforms that working class people desperately need in an attempt to find “common ground.”

By allowing Manchin and others to do away with the most progressive elements of the social program budget, by allowing corporate greed and interests to supersede the needs and wellbeing of the people, by allowing themselves to be controlled by the furthest right members of the party, the Democrats have once again failed the same working class people they claim to represent. They have put themselves in a position where they are unable to pass any but the most limited reforms. COVID cases are at an all-time high across the country, millions of people have gotten sick, and yet the Democrats have let the relief programs that were in place expire, and have failed to implement anything meaningful in their place, leaving millions of struggling people vulnerable to food insecurity, housing instability, serious illness and more.

The expiration of the child tax credit makes the failure of the Democratic Party painfully clear. We need a new system, one that prioritizes human need over the profits of corporations, and cannot be held hostage by the whims of an individual.


The Practical Justice of Marxism’s Vision for a Worker’s State

By Rainer Shea

The version of justice put forth by Karl Marx strikes a practical balance when it comes to the questions of capitalism and the state. It acknowledges the role that the state has in ensuring justice under the present conditions, while not viewing the state as something that will always be needed. Marx comes to this conclusion throughexamining the route that will have to be taken in order to eliminate capitalism, which he concludes is one where a workers state gets built, suppresses capitalism and its remnants, and then vanishes due to society’s newfound lack of need for any state.

The socioeconomic model that Marx sees as optimal for justice to be achieved is apparent from how he defines the version of “justice” which is tied in with the capitalist mode of production. In Critique of the Gotha Programme, Marx defines the “bourgeois right” as one which “tacitly recognizes unequal individual endowment, and thus productive capacity, as a natural privilege.” By this, he means the ability for people to accrue wealth in unequal proportions, whether based on their differing socioeconomic positions or on their differing abilities to perform labor. 

Under fully developed communism, he writes, the capitalist productive model which allows for wealth to be distributed in this way will be over, and society will have reached what Marx sees as the truly just socioeconomic system. The system where, as Marx writes in Critique, communism has reached a point “after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly.”

The idea that Marx supported the use of the state in facilitating this process is supported by the fact that in Critique of the Gotha Programme, he also describes a transitional stage as being essential for communism’s end goal of a classless, stateless society. In Critique, he writes that during the stages of socialist development prior to that eventual scenario, “What we have to deal with here is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but, on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally, and intellectually, still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it emerges.” Why does this entail the temporary use of a workers state? Because Friedrich Engels, the partner Marx had in formulating his theories, explained the necessity of such a state in keeping a workers revolution from being undone. In On Authority, Engels writes: “the anti-authoritarians demand that the political state be abolished at one stroke, even before the social conditions that gave birth to it have been destroyed.”

By “the social conditions that gave birth to it,” Engels means the paradigm of class struggle, where the bourgeoisie and the proletariat are engaged in a perpetual battle for dominance. The state is the instrument through which either class can enforce its dominance over the other. And for as long as the bourgeoisie exists, implies Engels, the proletariat will need to use the state to suppress the bourgeoisie. That is until the bourgeois mode of production is made extinct, and the bourgeoisie goes extinct along with it. In The Individual, Society and the State, the anarchist Emma Goldman argues that this isn’t true. That any state, even if it’s a workers democracy, will never simply wither away by its own accord. Goldman writes that “The State, every government whatever its form, character or color — be it absolute or constitutional, monarchy or republic, Fascist, Nazi or Bolshevik — is by its very nature conservative, static, intolerant of change and opposed to it.” By “it,” Goldman meant change.

On the one hand, Marxism acknowledges that Goldman is right about this; indeed, even a Bolshevik-style state won’t give up any control without being prompted by outside factors. But Goldman assumes that the only things which could make a Marxist-Leninist state grow weaker is a revolution, a mass movement against the state’s authority that resorts to violence if necessary. This is true for the capitalist state, but not the case for the socialist state. The difference is that the socialist state was created with the theories of Marx and Engels in mind, and was therefore set up to start giving away its control when prompted by a crucial factor: the shrinking of the power of the bourgeoisie. Because as the bourgeoisie and their instruments of reactionary violence grow weaker, the socialist state’s function—to suppress the bourgeoisie—becomes less needed. Eventually, when communism becomes fully developed, the state’s utility will be totally nonexistent, and the state will therefore vanish.

From the opposite end of the ideological spectrum compared to Goldman, Thomas Hobbes would argue against this idea. He would argue that the state’s extinction is incompatible with justice, because according to him the state is crucial for preventing individual misdeeds. In Leviathan, Hobbes writes that “the laws of nature (as justice, equity, modesty, mercy, and (in sum) doing to others as we would be done to) of themselves, without the terror of some power to cause them to be observed, are contrary to our natural passions, that carry us to partiality, pride, revenge, and the like.” He believed that human nature makes cruelty inevitable without a state around to punish cruel behavior, meaning the Marxist vision of the state’s demise is immoral.

In objecting to Hobbes’ argument is where the perspectives of Marxists and anarchists align. Both of these ideologies take it as a given that after the state is abolished, society will still have adequate ways to hold abusive and unethical individuals accountable. The basis for this idea is that the state is not synonymous with instruments for exacting justice. If someone in a community wrongs another person, that community could rehabilitate the perpetrator, or physically drive them out of the area, or arrange for a process of reconciliation with the victim. The state is not required for such measures. Neither is the “terror” which Hobbes claims to be essential for crime to be disincentivized. All that’s needed is a strong social bond, which is not synonymous with a state or with police.

Goldman and the anarchists recognize this flaw in the Hobbesian position that the state is and always will be indispensable for justice. But they assume that the state should have no role in the transition from capitalism to communism, believing the working class could defend a revolution from capitalist reaction without the help of the state. The analysis of Marx and Engels recognizes both that the state is dispensable when it comes to enforcing justice, and that the state is indispensable for maintaining working class gains for as long as capitalist restoration is possible.


Biden Promised Student Debt Relief for Public Service Workers. The Reality Has Been Painful.

“Even the best targeting is going to leave out borrowers who we need to be able to capture.”

Joann is a single mother who has been a nurse since 2010. Throughout that time, she had accumulated nearly $140,000 in student loans and paid about $700 each month. The prospect of paying off those loans was daunting, but in October, the Biden administration announced an overhaul of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. Joann was certain she would qualify; the program forgives the loans of those who have worked in public service jobs at nonprofits like healthcare facilities or government employers like schools or the military. To be able to participate in the program, borrowers need to have worked for 120 months while continuously making payments every month. And while the PSLF had been plagued with issues since its inception—in 2021 it had a rejection rate of 98 percent—Biden’s October overhaul was designed to fix the problems and broaden the range of eligible borrowers.

But several borrowers who spoke to Mother Jones said that there has been a gap between a well-intentioned makeover and the realities for the people it is designed to help. In Joann’s case, she worked as a nurse while pursuing a master’s degree in nursing. During that time, her loans were put into deferment, which means that her payments were paused on the loan servicer’s assumption that full-time students would not be holding down a full-time job. While ordinarily paused payments would come as a relief, in Joann’s case they meant that many of the years she spent working as a nurse did not count towards loan forgiveness.

[Read On]