Thomas Sankara: Remembering the African Rebel

By Kyle Morris

On December 21st, 1949, a visionary leader was born in West Africa – a man that would go on to fiercely challenge stubborn vestiges of colonialism and make deep social and economic progress in what was once the French colony of Upper Volta. He fought to unite his people and the whole of Africa under the principles of self-determination and collective autonomy. Twenty-three years after his country gained complete independence from France, 33-year-old Thomas Sankara took part in a coup d’état that resulted in him seizing the reins of a republic slightly younger than him. The 1983 coup was the prologue to widespread radical reforms that transformed the land that would come to be known the following year as Burkina Faso, which translates to “The Land of Honest People.” Sankara’s transformational wave would be cut short, however, as he began to show other African nations an alternative to paternalistic aid from former colonial powers, ultimately leading to his assassination.

Beginning immediately, Sankara’s government made massive strides improving lives and empowering the Burkinabe people. Hundreds of hospitals and schools were built, school attendance doubled, the infant mortality rate was cut in half, and two and a half million children were vaccinated. Understanding the threat of climate change, around 10 million trees were planted to stave off desertification. Wheat production more than doubled, making Burkina Faso food self-sufficient in just four years. All this was done without the help of new foreign aid. In a postcolonial country with a history of negligent military rule and Western-imposed austerity and resource theft, Sankara – espousing communist ideas – nationalized the country’s land and resources to reallocate towards public services, ditched the state’s luxury Mercedes’ (Sankara himself was known for riding a bicycle to work), and took in a far reduced salary and cut the salaries of his officials. Rent payments were cancelled, Western-owned land was redistributed to the people, and folks all around the country mobilized to take part in constructing new public works in their communities.
While eschewing foreign aid such as that from France and the World Bank, which would come with devastating strings attached, Sankara led the people of Burkina Faso to become self-reliant, building their own roads and railroads, growing their own food, and even making their own clothes. Hundreds of new reservoirs were created and thousands of wells drilled. Social services were expanded throughout the countryside, ensuring rural areas had access to healthcare and an education. He unilaterally refused to pay the country’s debts to foreign entities and directed the land’s resources to be used to provide for its own people, because “debt in its current form is a cleverly organised re-conquest of Africa.” To Sankara, this method of self-reliance was the only path to true sovereignty and the only way to break the shackles of colonialism.
The legacy of Thomas Sankara and his brand of liberation is particularly exceptional, not just for its anti-imperialist, communist, or environmentalist elements, but for the steps he took to empower women during his rule. “We cannot transform society while maintaining domination and discrimination against women,” he said. So he used his position of power and his charming rhetoric to challenge existing notions of gender roles, promoting the participation of women in the workforce and dismantling harmful and oppressive stigmas that hurt women and girls. Forced marriage and female genital mutilation were outlawed, women could finally choose to divorce their husbands, and a minimum age for marriage was set. Sankara also became the first African leader to appoint a woman to a major cabinet position. While it would be naive to think that gender inequities were erased in the society of Burkina Faso over the course of four years, we can appreciate the progress that was made and the unprecedented nature of such policies in much of the world at that time.
Today, October 15th, 2017, marks 30 years since the assassination of Thomas Sankara. We can learn from the way in which Sankara charted a new way forward for his people. Though a self-avowed communist (he carried a pistol given to him by Kim il-Sung), Sankara rarely spoke of ideology or historical cases – instead he understood that to make transformational change you must speak to the hearts, minds, and stomachs of the people. It is hard to find a world leader today that displays the same fortitude and moral character necessary to make radical choices to benefit the common man, in spite of heavy pressures to maintain the status quo. Not because such qualities are hard to find – in fact they are in all of us – but we must have faith in our values of equity and justice for all.
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Guns: Our Only Defense Against White Terror

By Paige Dignoti
After the events of Sunday’s mass shooting at a country music festival in Las Vegas left 58 people dead and another 527 injured, the gun debate has been thrust yet again to the forefront of American political discourse. We see this each time a mass shooting erupts: Democrats begin calling for tighter gun control and Republicans lash back. As socialists, though, many of us are lost somewhere in the middle. Unlike the Democrats, we acknowledge the legitimate purposes of firearms to protect ourselves from a tyrannical government, as well as from the far-right who target oppressed groups. Though, many of us also disagree with the very principle that people should have weapons capable of such mass destruction.

I think the majority of us agree that this debate has no foreseeable end. Both parties have too much to gain, and to lose, by wavering on their position. Because we live in a culture where shootings and intense violence against minorities does occur, we need to arm ourselves.

The typical Republican argument that, “The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” is flawed. In a mass-shooting scenario it is very rare for an armed citizen to actually end the situation. There are a few reasons for this, but it ultimately comes down to this; the “good guy with a gun” is woefully unprepared to respond in this situation. Mass-shooter events cause intense amounts of confusion and panic and the average gun-owner is not prepared to face these circumstances Trying to “be a hero” in a situation like this can just make things worse.

The typical Democrat argument that, “Normal citizens don’t need guns” is also flawed. Unfortunately, we live in a world where citizens do need to be armed, specifically minority citizens. Police brutality against people of color, and specifically young Black men, is a serious problem. Gay-bashing is still a popular pastime. Trans women (and again, specifically trans women of color) face 4.3 times the risk of being homicide victims than the general population of women, in fact in 2017 we have already seen 21 trans women slain for their gender identity. Hate crimes against Muslims, and those perceived to be Muslims, have been steadily on the rise since 9/11 and, more recently, since the election of Donald Trump. Rape culture is still prevalent and thousands of women are sexually harassed and abused every day. The American justice system is not in place to protect our citizens who are working class, women, people of color, or queer, it is in place to protect the wealthy, white, heterosexual men who established and continue to run it.

Furthermore, the idea of gun control is rooted in white supremacy. When the Black Panther Party took up arms and began patrolling their communities to protect against rampant racism in policing, in full compliance with California law, white supermacists got scared. In fact, it was a Republican, Don Mulford, who championed a bill stripping Californians of the right to openly carry fire arms.

The police do not protect our communities so our communities must protect themselves. We’ve seen this trend throughout American history; the Black Panther Party for Self Defense organized to police the police and to protect the Black community from police brutality and hate crimes; the Pink Pistols organized as a gay gun club to train members of the queer community to protect themselves against gay-bashing; the John Brown Gun Club, Huey P Newton Gun Club, Socialist Rifle Association and Redneck Revolt have experienced a surge in membership since the election of Donald Trump.

While many of us may not like it, the leftist community must embrace guns. With membership in far-right, Neo-Nazi organizations on the rise, events like those in Charlottesville will become more common. Right wing organizations are armed and trained to use their weapons against leftists and minorities so we must arm and train ourselves as well.

All the training in the world may not be able to end tragedies such as what happened in Las Vegas, and in all honesty, I don’t have a solution to that problem. However, if we allow ourselves to go along with the Democratic party, we will be making it harder for our communities who are already being targeted to protect themselves. By making sure we are armed and trained, we can protect ourselves and others from becoming victims to the hatred and ignorance that wishes to see us eradicated.

The Union Makes Us Strong: Music and the United States Labor Movement

By Dillon Henry

The importance of music throughout the history of the labor movement in the United States cannot be overstated. However, it was not until the dawn of new musicology that much serious scholarly work was done on topic. Musicians of both academic and folk backgrounds, historians, and sociologists have all contributed research on the movement, which provides a unique depth and variety of sources. Still, because this is a vast topic that has roots in numerous disciplines, there is ample room for further research.

From the first national labor union in the United States in 1866 to the New Deal era and through the 1950s, the labor movement played a pivotal socioeconomic role in American history. Even in the movement’s humble beginnings, music was vital in spreading its message and attempting to unite the working class across the country. Most of the movement’s songs were repetitive and memorable, making them easy to sing; the lyrics glorified work, promoted brotherhood, and rejected the excesses and exploitative practices of a ruling capitalist class. While the organized labor movement and union membership have waned considerably since the second half of the twentieth century, the music has lived on. With the advent of new musicology, the repertoire has, in recent years, benefitted from serious scholarship. This paper will focus on: books and articles about the general history of music and social movement in the United States; sources focused on describing discrete aspects or chronological segments (e.g. a specific geographical region or decade) of music and the labor movement; analytical sources focused on the music and history of labor songs themselves; and sources tracking the labor movement singer, who would become important with the advent of recording technology and keep the spirit of the movement alive even into the present day.

Because the labor movement in the United States was so far-reaching over time and place, many sources narrow their focus on a single time, location, and/or aspect of the movement. Indeed, this is where the bulk of research on the movement’s music lies, and the blanket category under which most of the consulted sources fall. It is not possible to address all of them in such a short space (true in all the categories in this paper, but mostly so here), but a few have been singled out for further consideration.

In For Democracy, Workers, and God: Labor Song-Poems and Labor Protest, 1865-95, Clark D. Halker examines labor music from the immediate aftermath of the Civil War to the end of the nineteenth century. His numerous endnotes and matter-of-fact prose make his writing reputable and easy to follow. He makes a case for his thirty-year time span in terms of the goals of the movement as well as the character of labor song-poems produced in this time frame. These change drastically at the turn of the century with the rise of socialist ideology among radicals in America: “… the older form and the vision of Gilded-Age song poets would become an anachronism to radicals, who argued that socialism offered a more relevant and useful way to understand capitalism and to structure labor’s advance. … Radicals after 1900 employed a song-poetry qualitatively different than that of Rees Lewis and Michael McGovern.” Halker’s logical beginning and ending points illustrate that such a culture and movement did not exist unbroken and unchanged, which is important to recognize to avoid sweeping, inaccurate generalizations.

This change is strikingly evident when one skips forward in time and reads Robbie Lieberman’s “My Song Is My Weapon”: People’s Songs, American Communism, and the Politics of Culture, 1930-50. This timeframe surrounding World War II and the emergence of a Soviet power provides a wildly different backdrop for music and the labor movement. Lieberman writes of the “Coops,” the United Workers Cooperative Colony, a housing project in the Bronx, of whom the vast majority of its thousands of tenants were Communist or pro-Communist. “The Coops nurtured the Communist movement culture through activities and organizations, beginning with the Young Pioneers, a CP [Communist Party] group that children could join at the age of eight. … All these activities had some radical political content. For example, choral groups sang left songs and Red Army songs. Athletic teams wore shirts with slogans such as ‘Free the Scottsboro Boys.’” Lieberman paints a different picture of the movement, especially when one considers the onset of McCarthyism and its surrounding controversy and hysteria.

For a detailed account of a still more specific location and timeframe during the labor movement, there is Vincent J. Roscigno and William F. Danaher’s The Voice of Southern Labor: Radio, Music, and Textile Strikes (1929–1934). The authors approach the topic from a sociological point of view, while also providing the historical context of mill villages, radio station foundings, and strike events. They dug up and used over one hundred interviews of mill workers from the time period for this book. “These interviews, used throughout the book, speak to issues of work life, family life, and changes in each. Moreover, many of the workers discuss the emergence of radio, the role of music in their personal and family lives, hearing FDR on the radio, and the strikes that unfolded in their own mill villages.” These interviews no doubt took painstaking effort to retrieve, listen to, and analyze, and it is no surprise why the authors relegate their book to such a brief timeframe.  This keeps their book focused, and their commitment is evident, and it shows just how sharply focused research on this sprawling topic can be.

The Music

            While many sources on music in the labor movement focus primarily on the music’s role in organizing, mobilizing, and uniting laborers, there are a number of sources that look at the songs themselves. Terese Volk’s “Little Red Songbooks: Songs for the Labor Force of America,” looks at the songbooks used in four labor colleges in the United States. She describes the life at these colleges and discusses their songbooks: “The songs in these songbooks belong to the people. Their melodies were, in nearly all cases, those of the folk or popular songs of the day or were hymn tunes. What made these songs into special labor songs is that they were nearly all parodies written by workers. (There were some composed songs; the best known of these were written for the IWW.)” She provides a useful table that lists selected, popular labor songs and the accompanying tunes that they borrowed. Though she looks at only four songbooks, a number of the songs she lists appear in all four songbooks, and therefore highlight the popularity of a certain few handfuls of tunes: thus these four songbooks capture a wide swath of prominent labor songs.

It may seem unorthodox to include an actual songbook in a bibliography, but Edith Fowke and Joe Glazer’s Songs of Work and Protest: 100 Favorite Songs of American Workers Complete with Music and Historical Notes is a surprisingly neat, tidy, and useful compendium of labor songs. Those looking for footnote citations will be disappointed, but it is an edited collection of songs arranged for guitar and vocals with chord progressions listed, and Fowke and Glazer provide composers’ and lyricists’ names (when known). They also give backstory on the creation of each song (when known). For the song “Jerry Go and Oil That Car,” for instance, the editors write:

     It was originally sung in an exaggerated Irish dialect … When Carl Sandburg included the song in his American Songbag he noted: “In 1884 Charles Lummis heard Gunnysack Riley sing this in Albequerque, New Mexico. Later, as an editor, he wanted the verses and put the matter up to Santa Fe railroad officials, who sent out a general order covering the whole system, calling for the verses to ‘Jerry Go An’ Ile That Car.’ A lost song was dug up…’”

This source is not an end-all be-all for scholarly pursuits, but it provides a capsule look at the musical construction of a large number of tunes (one hundred) and a brief history on how they came to be. The book also presents an extensive index of pertinent books and recordings for further reading and listening.

Robert V. Wells is a historian first and foremost, but his experience with the guitar, learning to play and sing folk songs, led him to write his book Life Flows on in Endless Song: Folks Songs and American History. From the perspective of both a performer and a historian, he traces the origins and discusses the musical stylings of a number of different tunes. Not all of these tunes deal specifically with the labor movement (though there is an entire chapter devoted specifically to the movement), but they all involve themes that were a part of working-class American life. He writes of the song ‘Boll Weevil’: “The ‘Boll Weevil’ is known widely across the South in varied forms but with the same basic message: the search for a home. Striking differences in lyrics and melodies in the way this message was expressed across the South suggest the weevil spread so fast that the first songs could not keep up, inspiring constant composition in the face of this munching catastrophe.” The prose is colorful and inviting, and copious endnotes allow the reader to follow Wells’s research trail.

The Labor Musician

With the advent of radio and recording technology in the twentieth century, individual artists rose to prominence through their singing of worker’s songs, some achieving the status of cultural icons for their representation of and speaking out for the working man.

No writing on labor musicians would be complete without mention of Pete Seeger, and Ronald Cohen and James Capaldi’s Pete Seeger Reader presents writings of great depth and breadth on the late musician and activist. This book is a compilation of writings by Seeger himself as well as those who wrote about him over the course of his long career, looking at all facets of his life beyond just the music. The writings are arranged almost all chronologically across seven decades, with the earliest from 1939 and the latest from 2009, and Seeger’s own writings are often personal and conversational. The reader senses Seeger is there talking to him or her, painting a picture of a different, perhaps simpler America: “If you play an instrument, why don’t you try this and start traveling yourself someday? Take along your music box and start off by the thumb route – hitch-hiking. Or you can ride the side-door Pullman, or if you can, if you care, ride in style behind the wheel of an automobile…”[1] The sheer changes in subject and tone across the writings provide their own historical insights to the constantly undulating cultural landscape of America.

Woody Guthrie’s autobiography Bound For Glory is a fascinating read as well. One gets the impression, however, especially through its dialogue, that it is at least partly fictionalized. Said dialogue is written to resemble Midwestern American vernacular, and it is at times nearly painstaking to parse: “…‘cause, ya see, men, I jes’ happen ta believe they’re right an’ you’re wrong.’ ‘You an’ yore letter, an’ yore pack of mangy curs! Boom town rats!’” But if one can accept this book as sensationalized and get comfortable interpreting the dialogue, it gives a unique (albeit slightly fantastical) first-hand glimpse into the life of one of the most famous labor troubadours.

Bryan Garman traces a retrospective view of the lineage of labor singers in his A Race of Singers: Whitman’s Working-Class Hero From Guthrie to Springsteen. In particular, as could be inferred from the title, he connects this style of musician to the writings and ideas of Walt Whitman. He does not talk so much about the labor movement itself, except for where it pertains to the ideologies of specific singers. Still, his writing is well-researched, and takes the reader closer to the present day, in its  discussion of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, both of whom have carried on the tradition of Guthrie and Seeger. The flames of the labor movement have long since died down, but Dylan and Springsteen are nonetheless couched in its traditions, and their music warrants consideration if one is to look at the labor movement’s legacy.

The labor movement in the United States had a long, rich, multi-faceted history in which music played an important role. Because of its social, cultural, and political angles, its broad geographical scope, and its almost one hundred year-lifespan, the movement has not yet been exhaustively chronicled. The survey here offers a (hopefully) useful but incomplete scaffolding for studying the myriad dimensions of music’s role in the labor movement. Not every source consulted could be adequately addressed in a document of this length, but a more complete bibliography below includes additional satisfactory sources. There is much more research and writing to be done on specific timespans, regions, and singers with regards to the movement. That being said, there are more than enough resources currently available to guide and aid interested scholars, and these sources come from a variety of authors: academic musicians, folk musicians, sociologists, and historians, among others. This provides the future researcher with differing focuses and viewpoints, which can shape a more complete overall understanding of a topic than sources coming from a single discipline. As the bulk of the scholarship in this area is recent (from roughly the 1980s onward), there is little doubt that it will continue to flourish in the future.


 

The Environmental Collapse Reaches American Shores

Are we witnessing the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina unfold once more? The similarities are uncanny. From the apish and irresponsible behavior of the United States leadership to the poor, mostly non-white demographic of those affected. It is clear that the ultra-wealthy elites of the world are happy to hide in their mansions while the working class is left to die.

Everywhere you look it seems the pillars of modern civilization are collapsing. Climate change is causing mass chaos the world round. The same rising temperatures that instigated the recent record-breaking droughts in places like Syria, California, South Africa and Brazil have now begun to manifest themselves in the worst Hurricane season in recent memory.

Hurricane Harvey is the wettest Tropical Storm to hit the United States in history. Leaving behind up to $200 Billion dollars in damages, it is clear that some regions of Texas will simply never recover. Hurricane Irma, one of the largest and most powerful storms ever recorded left a path of destruction through the entire Caribbean before making landfall in Florida.

While the Southeastern United States and the Caribbean were still recovering from these mega storms, Hurricane Maria has left in its wake a completely destroyed Puerto Rico. The entire island remains without power more than a week after the hurricane made landfall. The estimated economic destruction will set the US colony back 26 years.
To put it in perspective, the Great Recession of 2007-09 decreased the per capita GDP of the United States by 9 percent. Maria will decrease the per capita GDP of Puerto Rico by 21 percent— a cumulative $180 billion in lost economic output.

Millions of people remain without food and water. In some areas, morgues are literally overflowing with dead bodies. The lack of electricity means that the elderly and others who depend on modern medical technology, are dying en masse.

As President Trump flounders, lashing out at mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz on twitter, the death toll is expected to sky rocket into the hundreds.

“If we don’t solve the logistics, we are going to see something close to a genocide,” she said at a press conference.

“We are dying here. I cannot fathom the thought that the greatest nation in the world cannot figure out the logistics … for a small island of 100 miles by 35 miles,”

“So Mr Trump, I am begging you to take charge and save lives. If not, the world will see how we are treated not as second-class citizens but as animals that can be disposed of. Enough is enough.”

“This is an island, surrounded by water. Big water. Ocean water,” Trump said, excusing his administration’s inaction in an attempt to save face while Americans die. The ‘big water’ never seemed an obstacle when Trump threatened genocide against the people of Korea, more than 5,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean. So why is it an obstacle when our people are dying in our own backyard?

Are we witnessing the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina unfold once more? The similarities are uncanny. From the apish and irresponsible behavior of the United States leadership to the poor, mostly non-white demographic of those affected. It is clear that the ultra-wealthy elites of the world are happy to hide in their mansions while the working class is left to die. The responsibility of climate change and global warming can be completely levied to just a handful of mega corporations, yet it is the most oppressed and poor people of the global south that are faced with the most dire consequences of the Anthropocene. For how long will people allow capitalism to destroy the environment, poison our atmosphere and destroy the homes and lives of the working people of the world? For how long will the top 1 percent escape justice for their crimes against humanity?

How can you fix a system made to be broken?

          There is a lot of talk across the United States about the attack on voter rights. In many states across the country, restrictive voter ID laws have been passed under the guise of protecting American democracy from fraud. Polling locations in many states were reduced in not only quantity but also quality, with fewer hours and less days open. Millions of age-eligible Americans cannot vote due to a targeted and destructive justice system, with several states making it impossible for felons to ever vote in an election. For the vast majority of America’s history, voting rights have been restricted and barricaded to all those that were not white, wealthy men. Just because our current system is better than what it was, does not mean the system will ever be good.

            America’s founders intended voting to always be left to those they considered worthy of it. It was only natural, in their eyes, to reserve the right to vote to only white, land owning men because the society they perpetuated meant that only white wealthy men could possibly be properly educated. It took hundreds of years of fighting against inaccessible education standards for women, minorities, and the poor for the ruling elites to allow for their participation in the system. Even then, the capitalist class must be assured of their dominance and retaining of power. To do so, they have continually perpetuated a system that maximizes voter apathy and makes it difficult for the working class to stay civically engaged. This is not only done by closing polling locations, making voter ID laws, and restricting felons from the right to vote. It is also done by one of the inherent aspects of capitalism; wage slavery.

            Wage slavery, the idea that because of the worker’s need to survive off of a meagerly portioned out salary they are, for all intents and purposes, a slave. General thought of slavery usually goes back to the days of chattel slavery in America. While without any doubt a much more vicious form of slavery, wage slavery is still very real. Workers in a capitalist system are considered wage slaves due to the necessity of work and wages for their survival. Despite the implied “freedom” workers have by pursuing different jobs and opportunities, the capitalist system maximizes risk on the end of the worker’s. Does one really have the freedom to choose their treatment by an employer when they risk losing the source of income to provide for themselves and their family? The capitalists stand to lose very little, especially in a poorly organized country like the USA, due to the ease they can replace an employee.

            Wage slavery’s effect on politics is easy to surmise. Do the risk of losing their employment, workers are apprehensive to lobby publicly or privately for what they believe in. This alienation from civic participation contributes to the working class apathy we see. There is too much risk for the laborer in a capitalist system to enact genuine change, and the choices they do have in elections can never satisfy what the working people need in turn. The capitalist class will, as long as capitalism exists, work to make democracy the playground of those who can afford to participate.

By SoFlo Socialist

 

Workplace Dynamics in the NBA: A Lesson For Every Fan

By: Slumpito Andreddti

The New Year has finally arrived, the weather has reached its cold wintry nadir and as happens every year, mid-June the National Basketball Association has started to heat up. For millions of NBA fanboys like myself, the six month period which begins with the highly anticipated Christmas Day games between the leading league heavyweights and ends with the NBA finals in mid-June, is the best half of the year. No longer will we have to struggle through the ugly adolescent phase of the season, wincing at each team’s growing pains as the rookies and newly acquired players struggle to find their place in the pecking order. After December 25th, team chemistry will start to form, rivalries will start to boil and bubble and personalities will start clashing. For the NBA fan, this means that there will be a constant source entertainment, be it from LeBron’s latest chase-down block,  Draymond Green’s constant temper tantrums or Swaggy P’s wildly inconsistent play. All of this is a much-needed cushion to rest our heads on after toiling and slogging for crumbs, be it at work or school. While the average viewer is well versed in the nuances of the game, be it Steph Curry’s pure stroke from distance or Kyrie Irving’s immaculate dexterity with the ball, we could learn considerably from the workplace dynamics between the players and the owners.

The labor interests of NBA players are represented by the NBA Players Association, the oldest labor union of the four major sporting leagues in the US and Canada. The NBAPA was formed in 1954 through the initiative of Boston Celtics legend Bob Cousy, and was officially recognized by the league in 1964 after threatening to go on strike before the first televised All-Star game. Through the efforts of the Players Association, NBA players have earned many workplace victories, such as a minimum salary for all players ($543,471), a solid pension plan, and revenue sharing deal where the players collect 50% of all the money brought in by the league. The revenue sharing clause is actually a downgrade from years past, where players collected 57% of the revenue brought in by the league. This is especially unfair, considering that the league would be worthless without the labor of the players; nobody would want to watch empty arenas with glib rich dudes living out their fantasies (really the only things the owners provide). However, behavior like this is to be expected from the owners; they didn’t get rich by being generous, they did so by leveraging their wealth to add to their already enormous fortunes.

All of the above is a huge contrast to the working conditions of the average NBA viewer or moreover, the average American worker. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unionization rate in the American workforce stands at 11%, a stark contrast to the 1950’s, where 35% of the workforce was in a union. When Americans who came up during World War 2 and the 1950’s fondly reminisce about the abundance of well-paying jobs, jobs that allowed a single earner (usually the husband ) to provide for the entire family, this was the result of union militancy during the Depression and the early 1940’s. In fact, a study by the non-partisan Economic Policy Institute has shown a link between the decrease in unionization in the American workforce and wage stagnation. This isn’t to say that the 1950’s were perfect; discrimination against African-Americans was legal and socially encouraged throughout much of the country, it was still taboo for women to assert themselves as equals in society, homosexuality and sodomy were still illegal, which forced countless LGBTQ Americans to live in the shadows. However, it is still possible to take the lessons from the past as well as the present and apply them to the future. After years of dormancy, there has been a resurgence of militancy in the US labor movement, be it the Fight for $15 movement led by fast food workers throughout the country, National Nurses United union, which has been active fighting for the working conditions of nurses as well as showing solidarity with other struggles, airport workers in Chicago fighting for better wages and the Chicago Teachers Union, which has been nationally prominent since their strike in 2012. All of this points to a deep human desire to have a dignified existence, to be more than obedient workers subject to the beck and call of the boss, to have a say in how the fruits reaped by their hard work are distributed. There’s a common feeling of hopelessness and despair among those who belong to my generation, commonly known as the Millennial generation. This has to do with lots uncertainty, highlighted by this study that predicts Millennials will be the first generation to earn less than their parents. To combat this hopelessness, our generation will have to buck the cliche “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” spiel that has been force fed to us for countless years and look to NBA players and striking fast food workers for inspiration for being militant in our demands in the workplace.

While negotiating for higher wages and better working conditions could be a good start, the next logical step in removing the hierarchy between bosses and workers would be in removing the bosses altogether and having workplaces managed by those who labor in them. This might sound far-fetched in most cases, with most workers struggling to get by in their day-to-day lives, but the NBA is one organization where this could be possible. The average player makes $2.5 million a year, enough money to cushion them for unemployment compared to the average American. If all players past and present pooled their resources to create a parallel league with the coordination of the NBAPA, there could be a league organized by players and for players, democratically managed and without the dependence on old rich guys living out their fantasies vicariously through their employees. Obviously, something this drastic could not happen easily; there are billions of dollars at stake for NBA owners, network television companies, basketball gear manufacturers, sports drinks manufacturers and so on. Furthermore, with millions of dollars on the line, many players would be tempted to break solidarity and not give up their status for an uncertain future. Yet the fact remains that the NBA is a highly profitable entity solely because of the high-flying athletic brilliance of its players. If the players maintain true solidarity and set up a better league, this could provide inspiration for millions of NBA fans throughout America if not the world to take an active role in demanding how their labor is used.

Originally Published Saturday, January 7, 2017