Thoughts on politics, religion, violence, inequality, social control, change, and random other things from an autonomous, analytical, adopted, abolitionist, anarchist who likes the letter A

Unions? NBA? Sigh.

July 01, 2011 By: Mel Category: Change, Work

I’m in the middle of writing a completely different post on media, which is taking me entirely too long and should have been up yesterday. But while on the gerbil machine at the gym, I caught Sports Center’s coverage of the NBA lockout.  Now I can’t get my head back into what I was writing. So I guess I’ll switch gears for a second.

In principle, I’m a fan of unions. In reality, they piss me off about 90% of the time. And while the sports strikes are the most extreme examples of some of the bullshit that makes me so grouchy, you see a lot of the same BS on a smaller scale in other places.

First of all, the ideal is for the workers (or in this case, the players) to be the owners. If any industry had workers with enough money to do it, it is the NBA. Am I right? And don’t tell me about needing stadiums and shit. How many of those stadiums were paid for with taxpayer dollars? They should belong to us. Then all you need is a damn ball.

Somehow the idea of worker ownership always seems to get lost in the shuffle. In fact, massive unions like SEIU operate in exactly the same unjust, hierarchical manner that they criticize in other orgs. They pile millions in worker money into their salaries and to support political candidates. And for what? Imagine if they used that money to support converting businesses into coops.

But let’s get back to the NBA. You want us to back you up? Where the hell were you when people making far less money needed support? Were you showing up on picket lines? If the NBA was filled with people like Etan Thomas, someone who actually risked having an opinion, your plea would be more convincing.

Now, I don’t know what the NBA contracts say. I do know that even the supposedly uber-lefty university that I went to (UC Santa Cruz) made their lecturers sign an agreement that disallowed any kind of sympathy strike. I know that federal regulations have made all the most useful actions illegal. I’m short on time, so I’m going to quote Wikipedia here.

The amendments enacted in Taft-Hartley added a list of prohibited actions, or “unfair labor practices“, on the part of unions to the NLRB, which had previously only prohibited “unfair labor practices” committed by employers. The Taft–Hartley Act prohibited jurisdictional strikes,wildcat strikes, solidarity or political strikes, secondary boycotts, secondary and mass picketingclosed shops, and monetary donations by unions to federal political campaigns. It also required union officers to sign non-communist affidavits with the government. Union shopswere heavily restricted, and states were allowed to pass “right-to-work laws” that outlawed union shops. Furthermore, the executive branch of the Federal government could obtain legal strikebreaking injunctions if an impending or current strike “imperiled the national health or safety,” a test that has been interpreted broadly by the courts.

We were screwed. So legal options are limited. But there are plenty of players who don’t appear to have qualms about breaking other laws. More importantly, if you are calling for solidarity when you are on lockout, yet doing commercials for Nike (that bastion of worker rights) when everything is going well for you…Well then you can just fuck off.

And how about those people selling cokes and pretzels at your games. Are they unionized? Are you standing in front of their bosses trying to get them more than minimum wage? I’m gonna take a big leap and guess probably not.

When I was living in Santa Cruz, the bus drivers went on strike. They were on strike for months. While the relatively well-off bus drivers were negotiating, housekeepers who depended on the bus system to get them to town from Watsonville ended up losing their jobs. It didn’t exactly endear bus drivers to the community.

It doesn’t have to be that way. I’ve heard about other bus strikes where the drivers kept driving, but refused to collect the fares. Now that is a strike that builds support. Instead the system is designed to create animosity between us. And we keep playing that stupid game.

Look at this gallop poll. People have less confidence in unions than they do in banks, newspapers, the (in)justice system, police…pretty much everybody. The only people less liked than unions are HMOs and congress. That’s pathetic.

And don’t give me a sob story about how unions have been attacked and the public is deceived. It is bullshit to blame low union opinion on the anti-union campaigns.  Unions are supposed to be the bulwark helping workers stand up to those pressures. If unions were not able to do that, they failed.

Unions have to take responsibility for that failure. They can’t just bitch and moan that they were unfairly characterized. If unions had managed to save jobs, help people get better wages, get them benefits, and just make their lives better – no amount of propaganda could have turned people against unions. Some unions may have managed to hang on to something. But overall, in the last thirty or forty years, unions failed.

If you want people to start trusting unions again, then I suggest we start being a little more critical about how unions act. Perhaps a good start would be to take up some of the suggestions in this piece about Building the Rank and File.

So, to get back to the NBA. If you want me to support your strike, you are going to have to show some love to the rest of us.

If you want to hock some company’s product for millions of dollars, then that product should be made by people who get a decent wage. If you want to keep playing for millions, then the people who clean the stadium and sell the hotdogs should be earning decent money.

If you want us to back you up, you need to start backing us up. And making a two minute “NBA Cares” video of you reading to children doesn’t count.