It’s only February, but 2022 has already blessed the labor movement with a new icon. If you are active on labor Twitter, you probably already know who we’re talking about. Yes, it’s time to talk about Jorts.

For OnLabor readers who don’t dwell on the Internet, here is some background: Jorts is a cat who gained viral fame last year as the subject of a post on the subreddit “Am I the A**hole?” (AITA is a forum in which posters share stories of their interpersonal conflicts in exchange for feedback about whether they are being, well . . . you get the idea). In the post and a subsequent update (both recommended reading), the anonymous author questioned whether they were in the wrong for “‘perpetuating ethnic stereotypes’ about Jorts,” a “simple” ginger cat in the author’s workplace who was prone to “trash can mishaps” and dependent on the assistance of his much brighter tortoiseshell counterpart, Jean. The post was funny, the Internet loves cats, and Jorts became an immediate Internet sensation. A few days after the Reddit post went viral, Jorts (and Jean) joined Twitter “themselves” under the handle @JortsTheCat, and soon had tens of thousands of followers.

That’s when the ginger cat showed his true colors: as it turns out, Jorts is a union man. While many overnight Internet phenomena use their new platforms for profit or, just as frequently, turn out to be milkshake ducks, Jorts has seized his moment in the zeitgeist as an opportunity to promote and build worker power.

His activism started pretty much immediately. When followers asked if there were any plans to produce “Jorts merch,” for instance, Jorts responded: “you could just use an orange marker and write I LIKE JORTS THE CAT on something you already have. . . . Then you can take the $28 you didn’t spend and donate it to a strike fund like one of these.” Jorts’s advice soon became more direct. Twitter users who came for updates on their new favorite “dumb af” “dumpster cat” got plenty of that, but served alongside doses of wisdom about workplace organizing and collective bargaining rights. Peppered among the fan art and jokes about “scrungy” smells were reminders that “​[i]t’s against the law for your boss to prohibit you from discussing your wages with your coworkers,” and a useful new rule: “If you can talk about Jorts [at work,] you can talk about unionizing.”

Unsurprisingly, this advice has gained Jorts a number of fans from within the labor movement (Liz Shuler, Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, and the United Farm Workers have all expressed their admiration). But as Jorts’s goofy sweetness has found its place in the world of labor Twitter, it has also evolved into something remarkable: a genuine nexus for labor education. Last month, as union campaigns began to light up Starbucks stores across the country, a follower asked Jorts why Starbucks workers were organizing store-by-store, rather than nationwide. Jorts (being a cat) didn’t know — so he asked if anybody else did, eliciting several responses from organizers, including from the Starbucks workers’ union. Soon, another follower asked Jorts to explain “persuader activity;” Jorts responded by sharing resources from the Department of Labor, then followed up with a detailed thread on how to report labor law violations to the NLRB. As Jorts’s following has grown, he has kept up his role as Twitter’s preeminent labor educator (a recent thread on the Joy Silk doctrine included a shout-out to Jon Levitan’s OnLabor post on the matter).

Jorts’s particular blend of kindhearted silliness and forceful championing of workers is perhaps unique. But his exuberant arrival on Twitter comes at a moment in which the lines between online agitating and real-world advocacy have blurred. As more and more workers refuse to accept the structural inequities of late capitalism, social media provides a mechanism by which dispersed workers can easily connect both with each other and with a wider public — a public that is increasingly warm to the methods and aims of organized labor.

This easy access has led to some surprising victories. Last fall, Hooters employees turned to TikTok after the restaurant chain introduced new uniforms involving bottoms that could only very generously be described as “shorts.” Videos complaining about the uniforms deployed popular TikTok sounds and received substantial engagement; just days after the videos went viral, Hooters retracted its new uniform policy. A few months later, Redditors reportedly clogged Kellogg’s online hiring system when the company sought to replace striking workers. Around the same time, D.C. bookstore Politics & Prose fired the union-busting law firm Jones Day and voluntarily recognized its staff union after it became the target of a persistent campaign of cyberbullying by outraged union supporters.

For members of the chronically online Left, these incidents of sh*tposting-cum-organizing provide a hopeful antidote to endless Covid doomscrolling. More importantly, they create tangible labor victories. May 2022 bring many more such victories to workers, with Jorts as their gentle-hearted mascot.


This post reflects the author’s own views and not those of her employer.