What we can learn from the US women's soccer team

What we can learn from the US women's soccer team

The US women's soccer team has recently been in the news, both for a wage discrimination suit and a judge denying them the right to strike during the Rio Olympics. This is something we should be paying attention to. Here's why.

I'm generally not a sports fan. But I'm also not one of those who dismisses professional athletes as “overpaid crybabies”. The leagues they work for are hugely profitable enterprises and - along with all the other employees with whom they share an industry - they produce the massive amount of wealth generated by professional sports.
 
The reality is that – aside from the superstars – the life of professional athletes is not what many of us imagine. Most work for a couple years at, admittedly, a very good wage, although one that's probably not as high as you might think.
 
But in those couple of years, they work at a job that is physically and psychologically punishing. For many players, they pick up injuries that follow them around for a lifetime.
 
Add to this the fact that serious health and safety issues are consciously swept under the carpet by their employers it becomes a lot easier to see professional athletes as highly-paid wage workers.
 
This is not to suggest that professional athletes should be forgiven for becoming capitalists or for failing to engage in active solidarity with others in their industry. But people don't become class enemies solely because they become professional athletes.
 
All this is a long way of saying I think we should be paying attention to the dispute between the US women's soccer league and its players union.
 
On one level, it's worth noting that problems of wider society exist in professional sports. In this instance, professional soccer in America is very much a reflection of gendered wage differentials across the labor market.
 
For those of may not have been following the case, female soccer players in America are alleging that they get paid significantly less than their male counterparts. The US women's soccer team won last year's World Cup. They've taken gold in consecutive Olympic tournaments. They are, by any measure, significantly better - and generate more revenue - than the men's US soccer team. Despite, this some players makes four times less than their counterparts on the men's team.
 
In response, a number of women from the league have filed a wage discrimination complaint. In their attempt to address this, there's talk of the team striking during the Rio Olympics.
 
Legally, this should be no problem as their collective bargaining contract has expired and, therefore, they are no longer bound by its no-strike clause.
 
However, the courts have decided otherwise. The presiding judge in the matter had this to say:
 
“Federal law encourages courts to be liberal in their recognition and interpretation of collective bargaining agreements, so as to lessen strife and encourage congenial relations between unions and companies.”
 
The judge's argument basically went as follows: previous contracts had no-strike clauses and despite the fact that there is currently not an active contract, the still-active “memorandum of understanding” - basically a union recognition agreement – acts a de facto no-strike clause.
 
So, in the above quote, there's a lot going on that we should be aware of as labor radicals.
 
One, strike cycles in American are based around contract negotiations: the contract expires; the union and management try to hammer out a deal; if one can't be reached, the union may ballot for a strike as – without a contract – the union is no longer bound by the no-strike clauses that appear in, statistically speaking, effectively 100% of union contracts.
 
It is an incredibly dangerous precedent if union recognition can – in itself – be grounds for an employers to claim a de facto no-strike clause. Keep in mind that, in this case, there was explicitly nothing written in the memorandum about not striking. The US Soccer Federation only argued that, as they understood it, an implicit oral agreement and some supposed emails confirmed this understanding. And the judge accepted.
 
Second, the judge has laid bare the true intent of US labor legislation: to, as she put it, “lessen strife and encourage congenial relations” between capital and labor. This is nothing new, it's spelled out explicitly in the National Labor Relations Act that forms the basis of US labor law.
 
And this should be our main takeaway: labor law exists to discourage open class conflict, not only as it's written but through judicial interpretation. It's not there to help us. It's not there to protect us. It's there to facilitate the smooth functioning of the economy.
 
I hope the women of the US soccer team find the courage to challenge that by taking action outside of official union channels. But for us who are organizing in our own workplaces, we can at least go into our organizing efforts already having an understanding of the true purpose and intent of the law.

Posted By

Chilli Sauce
Jun 7 2016 03:35

Share


  • It is an incredibly dangerous precedent if union recognition can – in itself – be grounds for an employers to claim a de facto no-strike clause

Attached files

Comments

Khawaga
Jun 7 2016 18:01

Good post.

Schmoopie
Jun 7 2016 22:16
Quote:
And this should be our main takeaway: labor law exists to discourage open class conflict...

And repeal of labour law [in France and Belgium] appears to have the opposite effect.

Devrim
Jun 7 2016 22:36

One thing that struck me about this and the claims that they made more money was that they weren't comparing like with like. As far as I'm aware the comparison was based on last year, but they were at different points in their respective cycles.

Devrim

Chilli Sauce
Jun 8 2016 02:43
Schmoopie wrote:
Quote:
And this should be our main takeaway: labor law exists to discourage open class conflict...

And repeal of labour law [in France and Belgium] appears to have the opposite effect.

The situation in Wisconsin a few years back might be a somewhat analogous example: when bosses think they can get away with it, they come after the few protections afforded/won in terms of labor law - and we should rightfully resist. That doesn't undermine the fundamental role of labor relations legislation within capitalism.

Devrim, not sure what to say about that one? I support workers trying to get higher wages; I support women trying to get equal pay. In those situations, of course the bosses are going to do their calculations and we're going to do ours.

Devrim
Jun 8 2016 06:37

I've seen calculations of my wages printed in newspapers when I've been on strike which were utterly unbelievable. I think in this case though the figures put forward by the US female soccer team are obviously skewerd. A comparison made this year would find the men's team earning much much more. My point is that I don't think putting forward dodgy figures really helps an argument.

I support workers trying to get more money. I'm not sure that the point about equal pay really applies here as they don't actually do the same job. Of course, there is absolutely no chance that they will get it, and I'm sure they know that. They're trying to get more money, and it's an emotive argument. I don't blame them for using it.

Devrim

Noah Fence
Jun 8 2016 08:43

Yeah, great article.

Quote:
The reality is that – aside from the superstars – the life of professional athletes is not what many of us imagine. Most work for a couple years at, admittedly, a very good wage, although one that's probably not as high as you might think.

But in those couple of years, they work at a job that is physically and psychologically punishing. For many players, they pick up injuries that follow them around for a lifetime.

Add to this the fact that serious health and safety issues are consciously swept under the carpet by their employers it becomes a lot easier to see professional athletes as highly-paid wage workers.

This is not to suggest that professional athletes should be forgiven for becoming capitalists or for failing to engage in active solidarity with others in their industry. But people don't become class enemies solely because they become professional athletes.

The amount of times I've had this argument in response to people's condemnation of footballers!
I just don't get people's beef. We all want higher wages for working class people but manyresent it if it goes beyond some arbitrary figure they just pulled out of there ass. Ok, it's annoying when affluent working class people berate others for not trying hard enough or whatever but that's not a political issue so much as an asshole issue.
I don't begrudge even the superstars and their millions, just the political system that creates such inequality.

Jenre
Jun 8 2016 09:16
Noah Fence wrote:
Yeah, great article.
Quote:
The reality is that – aside from the superstars – the life of professional athletes is not what many of us imagine. Most work for a couple years at, admittedly, a very good wage, although one that's probably not as high as you might think.

But in those couple of years, they work at a job that is physically and psychologically punishing. For many players, they pick up injuries that follow them around for a lifetime.

Add to this the fact that serious health and safety issues are consciously swept under the carpet by their employers it becomes a lot easier to see professional athletes as highly-paid wage workers.

This is not to suggest that professional athletes should be forgiven for becoming capitalists or for failing to engage in active solidarity with others in their industry. But people don't become class enemies solely because they become professional athletes.

The amount of times I've had this argument in response to people's condemnation of footballers!
I just don't get people's beef. We all want higher wages for working class people but manyresent it if it goes beyond some arbitrary figure they just pulled out of there ass. Ok, it's annoying when affluent working class people berate others for not trying hard enough or whatever but that's not a political issue so much as an asshole issue.
I don't begrudge even the superstars and their millions, just the political system that creates such inequality.

It's true.

I think it gets a bit more complicated, though, when the wages of the players (and let's not forget agent fees etc) are actually causing clubs to go out of business and destroying real working class communities. I don't necessarily blame the players for that, but I can understand where some fan resentment comes from.

jef costello
Jun 8 2016 09:56

I agree with Jenre, I never supported either of my local teams because I couldn't afford to go and see them play.
Also when clubs go into administration football creditors (including players) must get 100% whereas other staff, many of whom were on short -term / zero-hour contracts get pennies in the pound.

Noah Fence
Jun 8 2016 10:15
jef costello wrote:
I agree with Jenre, I never supported either of my local teams because I couldn't afford to go and see them play.
Also when clubs go into administration football creditors (including players) must get 100% whereas other staff, many of whom were on short -term / zero-hour contracts get pennies in the pound.

Shit, I wasn't aware of that. Ouch.

wojtek
Jun 8 2016 12:59
Quote:
soccer

It's football.

Entdinglichung
Jun 8 2016 13:35
wojtek wrote:
Quote:
soccer

It's football.

indeed, not the sport which ought to be called American Handball!

Chilli Sauce
Jun 8 2016 13:39
Quote:
I think it gets a bit more complicated, though, when the wages of the players (and let's not forget agent fees etc) are actually causing clubs to go out of business and destroying real working class communities.

So, I can't speak for "soccer", but in US professional sports, I don't think it's player salaries that are driving ticket costs. The leagues and the many of the teams - who get massive tax breaks, public subsidies, corporate sponsorships - are hugely profitable. They could afford to lower ticket prices, but with such a large percentage of ticket revenue coming from super-wealthy season ticket holders or corporate boxholders, they have very little incentive to do so.

Reddebrek
Jun 9 2016 09:14
Jenre wrote:

I think it gets a bit more complicated, though, when the wages of the players (and let's not forget agent fees etc) are actually causing clubs to go out of business and destroying real working class communities. I don't necessarily blame the players for that, but I can understand where some fan resentment comes from.

I'm sure wage bills (with players taking most of that) may be a factor in ticket prices in some cases I generally doubt it. GTFC had ticket prices comparable to some division two and one teams when they were still in the conference, and the wage bill was not comparable.

Similarly Hull had variable ticket prices depending on who they were playing. I suspect the players are just an excuse given out for price increases.

For the Premier league I found this from a few years ago https://www.theguardian.com/football/2015/apr/29/premier-league-finances-club-by-club

It doesn't state ticket prices, but the tally of broadcasting and commercial activities dwarf the gate average and seems to cover the wage bill and sometimes double it. I also remember hearing that this year if no one bought a ticket for premiership level football the clubs would still make a profit.

jef costello wrote:
I agree with Jenre, I never supported either of my local teams because I couldn't afford to go and see them play.
Also when clubs go into administration football creditors (including players) must get 100% whereas other staff, many of whom were on short -term / zero-hour contracts get pennies in the pound.

Yeah this is accurate, although I don't believe it applies to every player. Also a number of football clubs use workfare and convict payback schemes for free labour and some have turned over secondary services like ground bar's to volunteers from their supporters clubs too.

Schmoopie
Jun 9 2016 09:19

Jenre:

Quote:
I think it gets a bit more complicated, though, when the wages of the players (and let's not forget agent fees etc) are actually causing clubs to go out of business...

God forbid that our demand for higher wages should cause businesses to go out of business! What would the world come to?

Jenre
Jun 9 2016 14:27
Schmoopie wrote:
Jenre:
Quote:
I think it gets a bit more complicated, though, when the wages of the players (and let's not forget agent fees etc) are actually causing clubs to go out of business...

God forbid that our demand for higher wages should cause businesses to go out of business! What would the world come to?

And what of the thousands of people who go and watch them every week together?

Boo-hoo and tough shit??

OliverTwister
Jun 9 2016 15:53
Chilli Sauce wrote:
Quote:
I think it gets a bit more complicated, though, when the wages of the players (and let's not forget agent fees etc) are actually causing clubs to go out of business and destroying real working class communities.

So, I can't speak for "soccer", but in US professional sports, I don't think it's player salaries that are driving ticket costs. The leagues and the many of the teams - who get massive tax breaks, public subsidies, corporate sponsorships - are hugely profitable. They could afford to lower ticket prices, but with such a large percentage of ticket revenue coming from super-wealthy season ticket holders or corporate boxholders, they have very little incentive to do so.

College sports are expensive too and the wages for players are literally nothing.

BTW Georgia Tech and Boston College are playing a match in Dublin on September 3rd if anyone is tempted to pop over and see what real football (that is, college football) is all about.

Noah Fence
Jun 9 2016 16:00

I'll be there! It's been my life's ambition to watch a bunch of square jawed jocks called Chad beat the shit out of each other!

Reddebrek
Jun 9 2016 18:11
Jenre wrote:
Schmoopie wrote:
Jenre:
Quote:
I think it gets a bit more complicated, though, when the wages of the players (and let's not forget agent fees etc) are actually causing clubs to go out of business...

God forbid that our demand for higher wages should cause businesses to go out of business! What would the world come to?

And what of the thousands of people who go and watch them every week together?

Boo-hoo and tough shit??

You could always do what Wimbledon and Manchester United fans did, club together and form your own club. Also could you name one clubbed that went under because of its players pay packets? I honestly can't think of one.

Schmoopie
Jun 9 2016 18:32
Quote:
And what of the thousands of people who go and watch them every week together?

And what about the hundreds of thousands that can't afford to watch football because of the exorbitant costs involved? Besides you're asking the wrong person: I don't like sport.

Chilli Sauce
Jun 9 2016 20:35

Not to be dismissive, but fans need to campaign for cheaper tickets. As has already been pointed out, in the US, college athletes literally get paid nothing and the college leagues are non-profit organizations. Yet, tickets are still damn expensive.

It's about the capitalist nature of league sports, not player salaries. And until fans step up, there won't be a counter-balance to market pricing.

meinberg
Jun 10 2016 10:40
Chilli Sauce wrote:
Not to be dismissive, but fans need to campaign for cheaper tickets. [...] And until fans step up, there won't be a counter-balance to market pricing.

Such campaigns exist. In Germany for example one is "Keinen Zwanni für nen Steher" which was founded 2010 when the Clubs of Schalke and Dortmund wanted 20 Euro for standing place ticket. Since then they had some successes even though prices are still high. I'm sure there are a lot of similar campaigns in other countrys...

Reddebrek
Jun 10 2016 10:56

There have also been several campaigns in Britain against ticket prices and club owners generally. Recently Liverpool fans staged a mass walkout at the 77th minute (because the price of a ticket had gone up to £77) . And Blackpool fans invaded the pitch to get some games called off in protest at the behaviour of their clubs owners. http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/32568110

Quote:
Owner Owen Oyston and chairman Karl Oyston sued three fans for comments made on the internet, with football fans from around the UK raising the £20,000 needed by one of them for his damages bill.

The chairman is being investigated by the FA for allegedly breaching five FA rules by sending abusive and insulting words to a Blackpool supporter.

A statue of legendary ex-player Stan Mortensen - where fans reportedly planned to protest this weekend - has disappeared.

Chilli Sauce
Jun 10 2016 13:15

Great examples. Hope I didn't come across as dickish in that last comment - I wasn't trying to suggest fans had never campaigned, only that campaigning is what's necessary to tackle ticket prices.

Auld-bod
Jun 10 2016 14:22

I do not know the details of football economics and possibly individual clubs differ in particulars.

From what I’ve read the pricing of tickets is whatever the market (fans) are prepared to pay. The explosion of player’s wages has been closely linked to the massive injection of cash through television coverage (financed by advertising). The players (rightly in my opinion) wish to be cut into the bonanza. If the clubs were benevolent societies, instead of capitalist enterprises, they could afford to slash the entrance prices/season tickets. I may be wrong perhaps, someone can put me right.

Jenre
Jun 13 2016 12:31
Reddebrek wrote:
Jenre wrote:
Schmoopie wrote:
Jenre:
Quote:
I think it gets a bit more complicated, though, when the wages of the players (and let's not forget agent fees etc) are actually causing clubs to go out of business...

God forbid that our demand for higher wages should cause businesses to go out of business! What would the world come to?

And what of the thousands of people who go and watch them every week together?

Boo-hoo and tough shit??

You could always do what Wimbledon and Manchester United fans did, club together and form your own club. Also could you name one clubbed that went under because of its players pay packets? I honestly can't think of one.

It's a factor is all I'm saying.

Chilli Sauce
Mar 6 2017 09:57

Looks like the US soccer federation is now requiring its player to stand during the anthem:

Quote:
All players representing the US national team must “stand respectfully” for the national anthem before matches, US Soccer has ruled.

The change comes in the wake of the controversy kicked off by NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who chose not to stand for the anthem last season. Many other athletes followed suit, and US women’s team star Megan Rapinoe took a knee before a game against Thailand in September.

https://www.theguardian.com/football/2017/mar/04/us-soccer-players-stand-respectfully-national-anthem

Chilli Sauce
Mar 24 2017 14:31

Interesting article here about organized fans at Everton, in an effort to keep down ticket prices, pushing back against the club's partnership with StubHub:

https://www.theguardian.com/football/2017/mar/22/everton-supporters-trust-stubhub-tickets