Sports and society: locked out
No one thinks of an American union and imagines multi-millionaires fighting against a multi-billion dollar company. Nobody generally assumes that the union has the upper hand in the negotiations either. Major League Baseball’s latest dramatic implosion, however, ticks both boxes.
The MLB recently announced that the league will go into lockdown for the first time after 26 years of a precarious peace between league owners and the MLB Players Association (MLBPA). This results from the expiration of the last agreement reached between the two parties on everything from the length of the season to the rules of free agencies; no new agreement has been negotiated. For a game that is the great american hobby in name only, this debacle is simply embarrassing.
This comes in a time of existential crisis for professional baseball. The number of viewers is dwindling, no one can knock and the league and the players are so out of sync that now no one is allowed to show up for work.
All league and team operations have been completely frozen. Players cannot use team facilities, teams cannot interact with their players and all the innovations MLB was working on to make their sport not inherently boring to watch will have to wait.
Even as craters of national union membership, the MLB lockout shows that the playing field can still be a stronghold for organized labor. It’s easy to dismiss these conflicts as trivial or silly when it seems like everyone involved is multi-millionaire, but like all union battles, it’s far from such simplicity.
The lockout is everyone’s fault, but the activities of the league’s top office and owners show backward priorities more focused on securing their bottom line than on fixing the myriad issues that have driven the league out. of remarks on the national scene.
The union they face may boast higher wages than your average industrial worker, but the principles of union relations are exactly the same. Unions ensure that the income generated by the work of their members is not unfairly pocketed or misused by business leaders. The goals of MLBPA are basically the same.
Yet it’s easy to accuse both sides, including the MLBPA, of being deaf to the harsh realities that many working Americans face today. For millions of people, it’s not about when and how they’ll sign their next $ 3M contract, but when and how they put dinner on the table. While all of this is true in principle, labor issues across professional sport must be treated in the same way in order to avoid dangerous precedents for one of the most public unions in the world. Like millions of others, MLBPA members are, in essence, hardworking.
MLB’s income is generated almost entirely by the likeness and performance of their players on the field. Unlike a company like Amazon, a company also embroiled in a seemingly constant labor controversy, the MLB workers are huge international celebrities who could spark a public outcry with just one interview or one tweet. This makes them particularly powerful and isolated against many iterations of league aggression.
Yet MLB commissioner Rob Manfred appears to be insisting on blaming the lockout on MLBPA’s refusal to negotiate on key issues. Manfred detailed these complaints in a recent letter patronized “to our fans,” a radically misleading position if you read between the lines.
Quite simply: the players make money in the league. The benefits of unions for keeping workers safe certainly go beyond baseball, but the progressive principles that drive them must exist everywhere if they are to survive, no matter how much workers earn.