America's National Pastime: Class Struggle

 

With the start of baseball season around the corner, I thought I'd get my Dave Zirin on and talk a little about the politics of sports. I've always thought that labor disputes in professional sports are a great litmus test that can be very revealing about someone's general attitude toward labor and class.

That may sound odd at first, because the disputes between athletes and team owners seem so far removed from the struggles of ordinary workers. Even the lowest-paid Major League Baseball player draws a salary beyond what the vast majority of Americans could ever dream of.

But that's just why it's such a revealing case. Unlike, say, low-wage hotel workers, baseball players can't command sympathy just based on liberal feelings of charity or a generalized sense of rooting for the underdog. To understand what side you're on in sports labor disputes, you need to understand something about class and the power relations between workers and management.

A common reaction among the general public is to see sports labor disputes as pitting players against fans. The fan sees players drawing unimaginably large salaries and struggling for even more, and they interpret this as greed. But of course, siding against the players really just means siding with the owners, an even richer group of people. And holding down players' pay is less likely to reduce ticket prices than it is to increase owner profits--just look at the Florida Marlins, a team whose owners habitually under-spent on players and pocketed Major League Baseball's revenue sharing money until the players' union forced them to start spending more money.

If we're concerned about the extreme wealth of baseball players (and owners), the sensible response is to tax their income at a high rate. Those who oppose the players in their labor struggles with management are really just performing a more grandiose version of the same politics of resentment that causes people to attack union workers who have good jobs and benefits, rather than seeing the struggles of labor as part of a project to improve the situation of all workers rather than dragging everyone down to the same level of misery.

Too often, however, unions feed into this kind of resentment by protecting the privileges of their members at the expense of other workers. And baseball provides a good case study here as well. The Major League Baseball Players Association is a strong union, one which is supported by many players who are otherwise politically conservative. But the strategy of the union has, over the years, actually contributed to the unequal treatment of athletes within professional baseball.

Under the current labor agreement, Major League players must work for the league minimum salary for three years after they reach the majors. For the next three years, their salary is set through arbitration with the team. Only after six years can a player sign with another team as a free agent, which generally results in a big increase in their pay.

The baseball blogger and author Tom Tango had a nice post about this system recently, in which he noted that it greatly enriches one sub-group of players at the expense of others. That sub-group is the established stars who stick around baseball long enough to reach free agency, and the losers are all those who never make it that point and wash out of the league while they are still making the minimum. Since the younger players are making less, the free agents are able to command higher salaries. And since the players who stick in the majors are the only ones who are in the Major League Baseball Players Association, they are able to shift the union's strategy in their favor, and against the interests of all those guys who didn't last for three years.

Of course, that doesn't even address the minor leagues, where many players get paid at a level that would be considered low-wage labor even by non-sports standards. And baseball's minor league system looks great in comparison to sports like Football and Basketball that outsource their minor leagues to college sports, where players are compelled to play for free under the pretext of receiving an education.

For this system to change, the top players who dominate the union would have to think in terms of solidarity rather than narrow self-interest. The fact that they don't, however, doesn't make them all that different from many of the rest of us. When it comes down to players vs. owners, I know which side I'm on. But I also know that winning the class war is about more than signing good contracts and protecting the interests of union members. A myopic strategy that divides union members from non-members will ultimately hurt both.

And of course, in the long run we don't just want to get higher wages from the owners of Capital, we want to replace them altogether. That's why it's previously been argued in this space that professional sports franchises ought to be socialized.


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Revolution at the Crossroads: Igniting the Socialist Resistance Against Trump

February 17, 2017 · $20.00 USD

Location: MayDay Space
Where: 176 St Nicholas Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11237
When: Friday, February 17th at 6 PM to Sunday, February 19th to 4 PM

Political Context

This Presidents’ Day weekend, the Young Democratic Socialists will gather for our annual winter conference in New York City titled Revolution at the Crossroads: Igniting the Socialist Resistance Against Trump. We did not choose the name lightly. In doing so, we call for leftists to collectively confront Trump and Trumpism at every possible opportunity. When a Trump administration attempts mass deportations of undocumented workers, when it attempts to register Muslims or roll back worker protections, when it attempts to take away reproductive, LGTBQ, civil, or any other rights, then we must militantly resist to prevent such measures.

To succeed, this must be explicitly socialist resistance. With liberalism having repeatedly shown itself incapable of combating the far right, it is now the time for socialists to openly declare our place in building the mass, multi-racial, and working class movement necessary for defeating the Trump administration. In this struggle, millennials will play an outsized role. That is why this conference comes at such a critical time—together we must create spaces for democratic and strategic discussion, spaces to gain organizing skills, and most importantly, spaces to form networks of young radicals for the future struggles ahead. These spaces will only come together if socialists come together. Join us this Presidents Weekend and help ignite the movement to defeat the Trump administration, continue the political revolution, and build the socialist alternative.

Key Deadlines

  • January 8th: Travel Scholarship for Air Travel (for application see below)
  • January 15th: Travel Scholarship for Non-Air Travel (ex: bus, car, train, etc.)
  • February 3rd: Early Bird Registration Ends - Tickets prices go up from $5 to $10
  • February 10th: Free Housing - We have limited free housing. You need to first register, then you will be sent an application for free housing.

Apply for a travel scholarship here! (First Deadline January 8, 2017)

Check out the working program (subject to change)