Friday, March 11, 2011

Yet another labor struggle

The rich guys who own professional football wouldn't budge, so the NFL Players Association took the radical step of decertifying their union today. They've put up an NFLLockOut website which seems a model of how unions need to communicate with the public. After all, football players are in some sense entertainers.

The owners were going to shut down the league anyway, locking the players out. They can afford to because they've got a contract with the TV networks that will pay them over $4 billion even if there is no 2011 season. Meanwhile, they get to drop the expense of paying players. Now there's a profitable deal: all income, no costs. A federal judge recently agreed the contract was a ruse by the owners to help them break the union.

So why did the NFLPA decide to stop acting as a union and become a "professional organization"? The shift means that individual players including the Colt's Peyton Manning, the Saints' Drew Brees and the Patriots' Tom Brady can file a class action suit claiming the owners are operating as an illegal conspiracy to prevent them from selling their labor by the lock out. It's an audacious tactic, implicitly asserting that it's the players that create the value in football. Actually, that's a no brainer, but not something management ever understands without having their noses rubbed in it.

The dispute is about money of course -- owners get over 50 percent of what players create by risking life and limb, but complain that is not enough. Besides straight up cash give backs, the owners also want the athletes to have to play two more games every season, increasing their risk of short and long term injury. Players say no way.

Some football players do make a lot of money, but most last only 3.6 years in the pros and too many then live with permanent disabilities acquired during their brief role as heroes of Sunday afternoon. Too many football players act as if their celebrity ought excuse loutish and even criminal behavior. (Yes, I'm thinking of Big Ben.) But this really is a classic case of capital trying to squeeze ever more from labor. In this year of attacks on the basic right of workers to organize and bargain collectively, fans need to get behind the players loudly and vigorously.

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