sports players are not the most obvious trade unionists, but we should remember
that one of the most significant victories for a British trade union in recent
years was the deal won by the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) four
years ago, increasing its share of the television money from an offered £10
million per year to £52.5 million over three years. After a 99% yes vote for
strike action, a complete shut down of Premier League football would have
started on 1st December 2001, except that the bosses capitulated at
the last minute.
While the multi-million
pounds salaries paid to the sport's stars gain headline attention, many
professionals achieve only modest incomes, failing to make the grade, or having
their career terminated early through injury or bad luck. The PFA's funds goes
towards retraining players from the lower leagues when their careers are ended.
It is remarkable that the multi-millionaires were prepared to strike for the
less fortunate and lower paid. This was a good example of solidarity and could
be used by trade union activists up and down the country as an example of what
collective action could win.
So it is tragic that
the American National Hockey League Players Association has been crushed after a
season long lock out. This is the worst defeat for an American labour
organisation since Ronald Reagan smashed the PATCO Air Traffic Controllers.
As Damien Cox of the
Toronto Star put it, "Only the 30 owners can really be excited about the results
of this lockout, for they have won a lopsided decision over the once-powerful
players, leaving the union humiliated and divided after surrendering close to $2
billion in salaries and gaining little in return."
journalist, Dave Zirin, observes: "The terms of surrender include a 24% pay cut
across the board for every player -- guaranteed contracts be damned. But that's
not the bitterest pill. The deal also includes the one concession that the union
swore it would reject: a "hard salary cap." Now, no NHL team can exceed $39
million in spending. For clubs that already spend more than this, players will
either have to renegotiate or be cut from the team, and accept two-thirds of
their salary as compensation.
According to Zirin,
players are already breaking ranks to show their frustration. Detroit Red wings
goalie and former team union rep Manny Legace told the Associated Press, "We
lost a season for no reason. It makes no sense what we ended up doing. For
years, Bob [Goodenow - their union leader] was telling us, 'No cap. Owners
aren't telling us the truth about their books.' Then after saying we wouldn't
even consider a salary cap, he backed down on that at the last minute just
before the lockout. It was too late, and now we're taking a worse deal."
Of course the salaries
played to professional sportsmen and women are absurdly high, and many fans will
have little sympathy. But surely it is better that the money goes to the players
who have the skill and talent, and risk injury, rather than to the shareholders
of the clubs?
And in the case of
American Hockey, the players have been forced to carry the can for the
disastrous mismanagement of the sport by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. Under
his ten year reign the NHL has spread out from its northern base and expanded
into the sun belt, where there are few fans. It is as if Rugby League were to
start loads of new clubs in the West Country, and then give Taunton and Exeter
as much influence in the governing body as Wigan and Leeds. Expansion and
relocation has increased the cost base of the sport without bringing in new
As Zirin says: "Bettman
has bet the future of hockey on failing franchises in small markets. By doing
so, he has shifted the balance of power toward owners who represent the weakest
clubs. The NHL is now like a Blockbuster Video that only sells Betamax. That's
why, for fans, this labor deal is so wretched. It strengthens the hand of the
worst teams in the league while protecting the fundamental problem: too many
teams, too many games, and too much product. "
The deal that has been
struck is a disaster where 30 billionaires have taken on and broken a union.
Zirin's new book "What's My Name Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United
States" is in stores now!
You can receive his column Edge of Sports,
every week by e-mailing