Go Players! Beat Owners!

Labor Organizing National Politics

Owners institute a lockout

New Orleans Not surprisingly the NFL players and owners marched into the abyss yesterday in another high-profile fight over the value of collective bargaining, though in this case in order to hold on to what they have meant tactically decertifying the union and filing an anti-trust injunction against the owners.  In Wisconsin even giving financial concessions wasn’t enough to stave off the attack at the very heart of collective bargaining.

A fan and a union man would have to wonder how much of the NFL battle was even really about the money.  Looking at the math in the sports page today, where the parties started at a billion dollars in difference, they ended up at a $200 million separation, which in “high-low” bargaining would probably be a deal or close to it.  The owners would never open their books, which in labor law is required if a company is really “pleading poverty” as opposed to just plain and simple “hard bargaining,” which is perfectly legal of course, so you can smell a rat there.  This seems about greed more than money, and, dammit, that’s worth a fight even if the NFL is hardly is the picture postcard of the heartland of the working stiff.

Though maybe that’s wrong this time around?  Maybe in the 20 odd years since the last conflagration in the NLR labor wars (and I can remember picketing with the Saints players then and still have my sign somewhere!) we’re clearer about the sides than we were.  Playing with the pros is still the hidden dream for millions of poor and working class kids, boys and girls, in tens of sports across the country.  It’s one of the few brass rings of dreams left in something that combines phenomenal luck with good genes and a true meritocracy.

E. J. Dionne of the Washington Post in his Wisconsin warning remind the Republicans of their own dirty little secret of how much their real base is not the rich they serve but the white working class they scam:

”Here’s the key to the Wisconsin battle: For the first time in a long time, blue-collar Republicans — once known as Reagan Democrats — have been encouraged to remember what they think is wrong with conservative ideology. Working-class voters, including many Republicans, want no part of Walker’s war.

A nationwide Pew Research Center survey released last week, for example, showed Americans siding with the unions over Walker by a margin of 42 percent to 31 percent. Walker’s 31 percent was well below the GOP’s typical base vote because 17 percent of self-described Republicans picked the unions over their party’s governor.

At my request, Pew broke the numbers down by education and income and, sure enough, Walker won support from less than half of Republicans in two overlapping groups: those with incomes under $50,000, and those who did not attend college. Walker’s strongest support came from the wealthier and those with college educations, i.e., country club Republicans.

Republicans cannot afford to hemorrhage blue-collar voters. In a seminal article in The Weekly Standard six years ago, conservative writers Reihan Salam and Ross Douthat observed: “This is the Republican Party of today — an increasingly working-class party, dependent for its power on supermajorities of the white working-class vote, and a party whose constituents are surprisingly comfortable with bad-but-popular liberal ideas like raising the minimum wage, expanding clumsy environmental regulations, or hiking taxes on the wealthy to fund a health care entitlement.”

Put aside that I favor the policies Douthat and Salam criticize. Their electoral point is dead on. In 2010, working-class whites gave Republicans a 30-point lead over Democrats in House races. That’s why the Wisconsin fight is so dangerous to the conservative cause: Many working-class Republicans still have warm feelings toward unions, and Walker has contrived to remind them of this.”

Our hometown hero and the Saints union representative, quarterback Drew Brees, reminded folks that the players didn’t ask for a red cent in this contract.  They just refused to cave in.

The players seem to have learned some lessons about leadership this time around.  They also seem to understand that arguing need to the owners’ arguments for greed is a winner.

Wisconsin may be proving that fighting for fairness still means something to Americans, and that could help the players in making a deal and a lot of the rest of us in fights to come.