Professional Athletes Stage a Historic Wildcat Strike

Labor News

Reprinted from The Daily Koz by Laura Clawson on August 29, 2020.

“As strikes go, there weren’t a large number of workers involved in the most consequential work stoppages of the past week,” writes Laura Clawson in The Daily Koz. “And professional athletes are often framed as something other than real workers. But make no mistake, when the players on the Milwaukee Bucks said they weren’t playing their playoff game on Wednesday in protest over the police shooting of Jacob Blake, that was a wildcat strike, and it turned into a seriously successful one.

“In the tradition of unions organizing for the broader public interest—as when teachers in Chicago and other cities negotiate for services that benefit their students outside of school as well as in class, for instance, or when unions pour money into raising the minimum wage for all workers—the players of the NBA and the MLB and the WNBA and other leagues made advances for everyone. Turning arenas into polling places could help with voting lines in key cities around the country. And the players—the workers—highlighted a major injustice in this country peacefully though not without disruption, again challenging the ‘I’m in favor of peaceful protest, just not riots, except oh, by the way, I was really really mad at Colin Kaepernick’ crowd. As Hamilton Nolan writes, the athletes also reminded workers that they, too, have leverage.

“From that piece by Nolan:

“’Here I just want to make a sim­ple point: these NBA play­ers may be rich and famous, but in this case, they are not doing any­thing that you can’t do too. The pow­er they are exer­cis­ing here is not ath­let­ic pow­er, but labor pow­er. They are mem­bers of a union, the Nation­al Bas­ket­ball Play­ers Asso­ci­a­tion, and that union has a con­tract with the NBA, and that con­tract pro­hibits them from strik­ing. Yet they struck. And not only did they get away with it, but it was a spec­tac­u­lar pub­lic suc­cess. They pulled off a wild­cat strike because they have lever­age. Because they can. That is the only pow­er that real­ly mat­ters in the work­place. Every­thing else is imag­i­nary. …

The Daily Koz 8/29

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Jeff Burman served on the Guild’s Board of Directors from 1992 to 2019. He is now retired. He can be reached at