Athletes are workers

The players of the National Basketball Association – the vast majority of them African Americans – carried out a historic three-day wildcat strike on Aug. 26.  It was to protest the heinous, horrific shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black father, at the hands of a white police officer in Kenosha, Wis., on Aug. 23.  The strike was sparked by the Milwaukee Bucks, who spontaneously refused to play a scheduled playoff game with the Orlando Magic, without consulting the other teams.

Little did any of these players know that this strike, which began in Orlando, Fla., in a confined bubble environment due to COVID-19, would spread across all sports, amateur and professional.  These included the Women’s NBA, Major League Baseball, National Football League, National Hockey League, Major League Soccer, World Tennis Association and college football.

NBA officials, the players and owners have had several meetings since the strike began. One of the concessions agreed upon was to turn NBA arenas into polling places on Nov. 3 as a redress for the voter suppression, especially inflicted on people of color, prompted by the racist Trump administration.

The biggest takeaway from this strike is that these workers are making a bold political statement with their actions. At the end of the day, NBA players are workers.  Why?  Because their skills and talents are reflections of their labor power.

Despite earning salaries ranging from the hundreds of thousands to tens of millions of dollars annually, they are unionized workers whose interests are diametrically opposed to the interests of the billionaire team owners. These bosses make tremendous profits off the players through TV revenue, ticket and vendors’ sales and more.

And just like other workers, NBA players are bound by collective bargaining agreements. Led by the NBA Players Association, the players fight to get a larger share of the profits from the bosses. These huge profits that the bosses enjoy come from surplus value — the stolen wealth produced by the labor of the players, whose fans will buy expensive tickets in order to see them perform.

Many NBA players expressed how much they felt empowered by carrying out this powerful work stoppage.  Anthony Davis with the Los Angeles Lakers stated that if the owners don’t live up to any of their promises, the players will again refuse to play.

These players did not strike for any economic gains that are covered under the current CBA.  They struck because they, like millions of others, are sick and tired of seeing unarmed Black and Brown men, women and others being maimed or killed by the police. They are sick and tired of the police not being held accountable for their deadly actions, with no charges or arrests.

So many of these players have experienced police harassment and abuse just for being young and Black, so they can relate to the George Floyds, Breonna Taylors and Jacob Blakes of the world.

And these players made the decision to collectively continue to resume the playoffs, not only to coronate a new NBA champion but to continue to speak out from this global platform on the need to carry forth the fight, inside and outside the bubble, for social justice and equality.  These players’ actions will continue to inspire all workers to use their power to struggle for the same demands and beyond.

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