In the aftermath of the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team players backed out of their playoff game against the Orlando Magic, in protest of the racist police terror that has convulsed the country in recent months. This, of course, was against their contracts, which include a “no-strike” clause. The players on the Orlando Magic quickly responded, also backing out of the game, which was followed promptly with solidarity from the rest of the teams in the playoffs, who likewise refused to play.
While only two teams, the Lakers and Clippers, voted to end the postseason altogether, others also joined the wildcat strike, which was unprecedented in professional sports history. The NBA referees staged a walkout, Major League Baseball, National Hockey League, and Major League Soccer all announced game postponements. And on August 28, the NBA League workers announced they would stage a walkout, standing in solidarity with the players, spending their day calling legislators in Wisconsin to demand justice.
This is what is called a political strike. It is not a strike for wages and benefits. It is a collective action by workers—in this case, professional basketball players and others—who exercise their power to withhold their labor to achieve a political goal. The rest of the labor movement must support, join, and expand such actions to the entire working class. The leaders of the AFL-CIO and all the unions should stop standing on the sidelines!
As someone who works for the Brooklyn Nets and New York Liberty, it is great to see the conversation about racial injustice initiated by the company shortly after the vile murder of George Floyd. But the players’ strike is more than just a conversation. While the NBA has been at the forefront of keeping the debate going, it’s about more than just putting names on jerseys and courts.
For example, team workers—those who work in marketing, public relations, ticket sales, etc.—did not join the action. Like the players who withdrew their labor from the teams, the “behind-the-scenes” office workers must do the same! If the workers of each team were to stand in solidarity with the league workers and players, we could fight for more—for the unity of the working class to fight capitalism and the racial injustice hardwired into it.
Unfortunately, the conversation has boiled down to little more than a constant call to vote for the candidate who will get us closest to where we want to be. Everyone knows Trump is a racist and a would-be autocrat. But does a vote for Biden and the Democrats actually get us any closer to racial justice? Biden not only supported the racist “welfare reform” of the past, but he supported and still supports expanding, not scaling back the police.
Unsurprisingly, when a contingent of NBA players went to Barack Obama for advice, he urged them to call off the strike and turn team venues into voting stations in November. This is a classic example of why the Democratic Party is known as the graveyard of progressive social movements.
The NBA players’ strike and the solidarity by players in other sports show the working class’s potential power. Just imagine if the nearly 15-million unionized workers in the country organized an all-out political general strike while calling on non-union workers to join them? The preparations for such a strike could also be the launching pad for a mass unionization drive to organize those without union representation. It could also lay the foundations for creating a mass socialist workers’ party and a decisive break with the rotten two-party system. This is the way forward!