On the show, it is only when the debtors play the first game – Red Light, Green Light – that they find out what is really at stake. When more than half of the players are shockingly eliminated and horribly murdered , a consequence no one saw coming, the remaining players come together and collectively demand an abrupt end to the games, allowing everyone to return home alive. Essentially, they are unionizing, leveraging their collective power to disrupt incentives to continue gambling.
As an organizer with the Collective debt, the nation’s leading debtors’ union, this brief moment on the show illustrates just how strong our union can be. Just as unions collectively negotiate for better wages or working conditions, the Debt Collective believes unionized debtors can achieve full-scale debt cancellation and change the way we finance public goods.
We put our theory to the test in 2015 when we staged the first student loan strike in history, the Corinthian 15, followed by Biden Jubilee 100 earlier this year. To date, we have won billions of student loan cancellations for people who have been scammed by for-profit colleges and put the demand for massive student debt elimination on the political map. As the Squid game participants, we went on a debt strike and refused to pay.
When the Squid game competitors come back later to play the game, their power to bargain collectively as debtors remains. The Debt Collective wants to inspire the kind of leverage we should be threatening today – what we call economic disobedience.
Take student loans, for example: Forty-five million debtors are grappling with nearly $ 2 trillion in student debt, spending years repaying the government only to find that their balances inevitably exceed the original principal as the debt continues. time passes and interest accumulates. Next February, two years after a moratorium suspended payments and interest on all federal student loans, President Biden is expected to reactivate monthly payments, despite the widespread economic precariousness that has been made worse by the pandemic.
Imagine if a majority of us decided not to pay? Would a combination of strategic default, monthly payments of $ 0, and a collective demand for cancellation of all student debt help us achieve full cancellation? This is a question that deserves to be asked. After all, if the pandemic has revealed anything, it’s that the federal government can function very well without our student loan repayments. These payments have been suspended since March 2020 and the sky has not fallen.
But the demand for Debt Collective is greater than the abolition of all student debt, because the same crisis would start again a semester later; for starters, we believe all universities should be tuition free. As co-founder of Debt Collective, Hannah Appel wrote, “The potential of debtor unions … is not only to deny and renegotiate illegitimate debt”, but also to “highlight issues that the financial age seems to have closed.” In other words, a call for student debt repayment must coincide with a demand to radically reshape our economy and create real restorative public goods, like the tuition-free university and medicare for all.