As anxiety about inequality and the erosion of the middle class rises, so does awareness that still more seismic changes are ahead in a landscape of work where long-term employment is on the wane. Today, both professional and low-wage jobs are dominated by an ideology of “flexibility”—and by a reality of transient relationships between employers and employees. Those ties are getting only more tenuous as the “on-demand economy” takes off, with the spread of Uber-style instant consumer services. A media beat that had all but disappeared seems to be making a tentative comeback. Politico has started a section devoted entirely to labor issues in response to reader interest. The Huffington Post now employs a full-time labor reporter.
So far, though, the fraught future of labor in the U.S. has notably failed to generate public protest on a significant scale. Nothing in American politics compares with the civil-rights crusade, the movement against the Vietnam War, or the labor wars of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Could that change? Might the future possibly hold a resurgence of the indignation about class disparities—and about the labor and economic circumstances they reflect—that was once focused on the workplace?