When the exciting news broke today about the NLRB ruling granting preliminary support for Northwestern college football players to form a union, I quickly came over to DKos to read the reactions from Laura Clawson and others. I expected to see jubilation - as this is the first great step to ending a college athletic system that exploits athletes and makes hundreds of millions of dollars in profit for the NCAA and for colleges that spend millions on lavish stadiums and training facilities, as well as coaches' salaries and that of sports administrators. These schools then take no long term responsibility for injuries to these players (which was why the term "student-athlete" was created in the first place to avoid worker compensation claims) or to the job prospects or educational opportunity for many of these players after they graduate or get kicked out of their sport.
Yet, in entering the comment section on this topic - I was appalled to find not just the usual smattering of anti-union comments, but a full blown stream criticizing the ruling and bemoaning that this will either bankrupt college sports (or, my favorite, end scholarships for academic programs as well!!) or creates a sense of entitlement for players who are already given "so much" in the form of scholarships and other perks of being an athlete.
(Follow below as I continue)
This actually isn't the first time I've encountered anti-union and anti-collective bargaining sentiment in recent months. In a smaller proportion, the reaction to diaries about Harris v. Quinn, the Supreme Court's looming decision on Home Care Workers and their organizing in Illinois and other states also contained similar anti-union talking points that I am much more used to seeing on the right-wing websites. Using tropes of "being forced" into a union" or labor organizer out only for the best interest of the union, as opposed to the workers, commenters agreed with many of the arguments being used by the National Right to Work Foundation lawyers funded by our greatest enemies on the extreme right. It is the same rhetoric used by anti-union activists in Chattanooga about private industry too (plus the bankrupting argument...the NCAA and Volkswagen are doing just fine). By the way, the ruling in Harris v. Quinn has the potential to not only overturn the best chance home care workers have to actually build some power in an inherently exploitative industry, but it also may lead to the end of any significant public sector union. Scalito and company are thrilled at the opportunity.
Organizing, in the labor movement and in community organizations, has been the single most effective mechanism to bring large scale change to our county. It has not been at the ballot box - it has been on the street.
Our Home Care system is broken and vicious in its usage of workers, often immigrants and persons of color. It is one of the categoriesof workers originally excluded from labor law in order to placate the Southern Democratic racists during the New Deal period - and still today the residue of this exclusion means that in-home services are provided with little training, little protection and a great deal of money flowing not to workers, but to exploitative bosses. Even in the case of parents and family members who are paid by the State to care for loved ones, this system places their financial well-being at the behest of the state budget process and leaves them largely without a voice.
Our college athletic system is broken too - and goodness knows there has been hundreds of discussions here at DKos about wanting to change the NCAA and do away with many of the rules that harm student athletes and exploit their sports to make millions of dollars for the system and for the colleges themselves who reinvest that money in athletics and not academics.
The only way to fix these systems - short of some kind of benevolent miracle where the bosses in charge of these wonderful wealth generating industries decide to reform from within...is a union for these folks and therefore a collective bargaining process that allows for a more level playing field in the back and forth between administrators and players, bosses and home care workers.
Is today the final word on college athletes forming a union? Of course not. Nor should it be - this has to be a process moving forward to fix a broken system and create a new program that benefits everyone involved, but most of all the actual athletes laboring. It is about allowing the players to be part of making the leagues more equitable. The same goes for home care organizing - these are all part of a long term struggle that obviously doesn't end with the creation of a union. But to simply say that these people do not deserve a voice - or should not be building towards a better system, is wrong headed. I am saddened to see that idea echoed here at DKos.
I look forward to the continued back and forth - we don't change anything by putting our head in the sand and just hoping for change, we have to go out and do it. I am proud of the football players at Northwestern and the hundreds of thousands of home care workers standing up for their rights.
Update: Glad to see the conversation (and some anger too) this diary has stimulated - and thank you for the comments and recs.
I will also point people to a report (PDF) on the 40th anniversary of Title IX in 2012 - it is interesting to me that some folks suggest that these changes would harm female athletics - or bankrupt small school's athletics - when those were the same charges leveled against Title IX at its inception.
Making change means ending the status quo...