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From the X-Men to the NBA, I grew up learning about teamwork from pop culture. As a kid, my favorite moments were when a group of people unexpectedly learned to work together, like the Sailor Scouts against Queen Beryl, or “left side,” “strong side,” or the 2004 Finals. Even today, I get butterflies watching the portals open in Avengers: Endgame or a scene from Haikyuu!!—the best anime you’re not watching—when a volleyball team literally stands up against a bigger opponent trying to crush them to death.
If there’s one thing I take pride in, it’s being part of a team.
As longtime readers might know, outside of writing this newsletter for The Atlantic, I run Lifehacker and The Takeout. This week, though, workers at Lifehacker and its sister sites—Gizmodo, Jezebel, Kotaku, Jalopnik, and The Root—began an open-ended strike. And as much as I love doing my job, I joined them.
I won’t dive into too many details of the strike, which you can learn more about here. Suffice to say, G/O Media—which is owned by Great Hill Partners, a private-equity firm that recently raised $4.65 billion—has failed to come to terms with the GMG union, though CEO Jim Spanfeller said in an email to staff that management had bargained in good faith. It’s the exact kind of workers-versus-the-wealthy battle that you’re imagining. Still, strikes are scary, as I only came to understand when I experienced this one. Strikes are the type of life event that stops your world from spinning.
I first heard this metaphor explained in the context of losing a loved one, but I imagine the same is true of illness, depression, or atrocities much worse than a strike: The world is spinning and you step off, standing in limbo as it keeps going. I, insignificant little me, stepped off my insignificant little world on Tuesday, and can only watch as the carousel continues to turn.
This week I received an email from a Lifehacker reader who said, “Looks like all your network’s RSS feeds stopped functioning properly on March 1st. Hopefully you all can get this corrected.” He had no reason to know that I’m on strike, forfeiting income and health insurance. He doesn’t know that I spent this week walking 20 miles in circles in front of my office building. He doesn’t know that I celebrate a growing strike fund every morning. I’m just a nobody who exchanges ideas for a living, and he’s a helpful reader who probably wants content because his world is still spinning. I don’t expect him—or most people—to care about a strike. But the message served as a reminder of just how small I am. And the worst thing that comes from feeling small is fear.
There’s fear of a failed strike: We could be replaced by scabs, or owners could put their egos ahead of fair negotiations, to the detriment of their company.
There’s fear of an impasse: This could be a long, drawn-out process that ultimately hurts both sides.
There’s fear of low morale and turnover: When the strike ends, I have to expect my teammates to question why they should choose to continue working for a company that would put them through so much over raising wages during high inflation.
And there’s fear of retaliation. No amount of legal protections can really settle my fear of blowback for participating in a strike. It doesn’t matter that I’m good at my job. It doesn’t matter that my team trusts me, or that I somehow enjoy the stress of trying to balance a website’s traffic goals with writer fulfillment. It doesn’t matter that I’m able to write one hell of a newsletter for The Atlantic and effectively run Lifehacker and The Takeout at the same time. All that matters is that those things are important to me, and that someone, if they wanted, could flip my carousel completely over.
But, for better or worse, I grew up learning about teamwork.
I’m stunned by the resiliency and camaraderie I see around me. I’m amazed at the organization and resolve of union leadership. I’m grateful for strangers sending emails of support, and online donors willing to keep us going for however long it takes for workers to be valued on par with our contributions. And I’m grateful for people like my friend Omar, who, when he heard that I went on strike, said, “I’m there,” and showed up on the picket line the next day; and like my friend Shanelle, who texted, “You on strike? I’m your strike fund.”
The writers on my team at Lifehacker—and those at Gizmodo, Jezebel, Kotaku, Jalopnik, and The Root—have always been the heart and soul of our respective sites, no matter who owns them. And those writers deserve better. So when I think of the team around me—and the support from those around us—the fears still exist, but I can live with them.
I may be an insignificant little nobody, but a hundred nobodies aren’t insignificant at all. These hundred can meaningfully raise minimum salaries. These hundred can guarantee adequate, affordable health care. These hundred are the difference between a thriving media company and one more in a long list of shuttered ones. And these hundred are who millions of people want to read.
So if there’s one thing I take pride in, it’s not just being part of any team—it’s being part of this one. And I think our teamwork will solve problems, whether I’m scared or not.
My favorite reader email this week came from Michael, who, in response to last week’s essay about Severance, told me about how his domineering boss had been nicknamed “the fascist” by the workers. Michael was ready to quit from the poor working conditions, but just before he did, he found “a picture of the owner in a Nazi uniform giving the raised arm salute, dated 1943. The guy had been a member of the Belgian Nazi party! I was literally working for a fascist! … I’m certain other people had worse jobs, but I still feel soiled knowing I helped make money for a fascist.”
See, Michael, that’s why there are two categories of people I don’t want to know anything else about: my favorite musicians, and my employers. People just keep ignoring my wishes—I worked for a WeWork subsidiary once, for Christ’s sake, and now there’s a new TV series or documentary every six minutes to remind me about that place.
This week’s book giveaway is When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by New York Times best-selling author, Daniel H. Pink. It’s about knowing the best times to make big, life-changing decisions, like when to change jobs or get serious about a relationship or new project. Just send me an email telling me if you’ve ever supported a strike or not. And if you haven’t, maybe this is the nudge you need to appeal to a private-equity firm or donate to a strike fund. I’ll send the book to the first person who hits my inbox. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or find me on Twitter at @JordanMCalhoun.