Early Sunday, upon the expiration of the outgoing collective bargaining agreement, the NHL’s owners voted to lock out the players for the third time since 1994. In 2004-05, the NHL became the first major North American sports league to lose an entire season to a work stoppage, and now that that collective bargaining agreement is up, the owners are once again locking out the players, despite the NHLPA offering to continue to play under a system that massively advantages the owners.
During these negotiations, the NHL’s owners, coming off record revenue and a recent boom in popularity, has made it abundantly clear that not only will they refuse to pay the players what they thought was a fair share 8 years ago, but that anything approaching the status quo is unacceptable.
But you know all this. The real point of this post is the reaction from Calgary Flames winger Mike Cammalleri, who had this to say to the Toronto Star:
“How do we win? We’ve already lost,” said Flames forward Mike Cammalleri. “We’ve already conceded ($800 million, all figures U.S.). It seems like for them, it’s become the bully in the playground. It’s like: ‘We think we can take your cookies, too.’”
Cammalleri explained the players’ exasperation:
“They came to us and said we have a systemic problem with the small-market teams losing money. We said: ‘Okay, we’ll concede up to $800 million-plus as long as the bigger teams help us in a revenue-sharing model.
“Then we did that, and they said: ‘Oh, that’s not the problem. The problem is you guys just make too much money.’
“Your boss comes to you tomorrow and says: ‘My company does great, makes tonnes of money but I’m going to take 20 per cent of your salary just because where else are you going to work?”
“Where does it end?” says Cammalleri. “If we take their proposal, the next time around, they’re still going to have the same excuses. It doesn’t fix anything. It doesn’t address any of the problems they said we know would make the league healthier.
“They’re going to come to us with the same issues. Of course they don’t want to fix those problems, because they want to be able to do this to us again next time.”
There are those who throw up their hands and call this labor disagreement “Millionaires vs. Billionaires” and engage in finger-wagging aimed at both sides. That’s missing the point. This is a multi-billion-dollar organization taking a bite out of its labor force (and in the process, putting out of work tens of thousands of support staff who make a relative pittance) not because it needs to cut costs to survive (as was the argument in 2004) but because it can.
There is nothing fans can do to stop it. The owners don’t need to play anytime soon because not only do they still get paid for their TV deal, they also tend to have cash reserves that allow them to hold out longer than players—and without having to pay staff and players, that advantage only grows. The owners don’t need to win a PR battle, because we as hockey fans have proven that we’ll come back when the games return. And why wouldn’t we? We’d only be depriving ourselves of the game we love so much, and at next to no cost to the owners.
Do you think that if I were naive enough to think some sort of boycott would have an effect, the Flyers would miss the $20 I’d spend on a Jakub Voracek shirsey next year? Even if thousands of fans joined in and made a public ruckus, it would take almost a complete fan blackout to make any sort of real economic impact. Cancel your season tickets? The big-market owners who are driving this lockout will just sell them elsewhere. Any effective fan protest would topple hilariously just like the 100 million-player game of prisoner’s dilemma it is.
So the fans have no recourse. The players, who are bargaining collectively with their employers in accordance with Canadian and American law, are similarly up the proverbial creek. They are faced with two options: 1) ply their trade overseas, in the case of the NHL’s North American majority far away from friends and family, for less money and in leagues that take only a passing interest in player safety or 2) sit at home without work of any kind, thanks to a Canadian Major Junior system that essentially stops educating promising young hockey players before they’re even out of high school.
And again, there are the beer vendors, jumbotron operators, ice girls and PR staff who will go unpaid. Because the NHL has decided it’s not profitable enough. Six weeks, six months, a year from now, the players will cave and swallow whatever diktat Gary Bettman and Ed Snider deign to offer, because they can.
This is not a case of the rich getting richer. The rich getting richer is when a player signs a contract extension that bumps his salary up a few hundred thousand dollars. This is a small group of men whose wealth is beyond comprehension to normal Americans, plutocrats of such vulgar material worth that we only even belong to their species in a biological sense. Who were rescued from their own greed and shortsightedness only a few years ago and are now back for everything they can get.
It’s their right as Americans and Canadians to attempt to gain as much material wealth as possible. Some would say it’s kind of the point. And that they can put thousands out of work because they don’t think they’re rich enough is the logical extension of a political and economic system that values the individual over the whole. So they’ll grab for their billions because they can.
And we’re just sort of…okay with this…
What the fuck, America. What the actual fuck.
This isn’t about the lockout. This is about a society that holds labor in such low regard that the comfort of corporate ownership trumps the livelihood of the workers who make that comfort possible.
This is about a society that forgives companies who run themselves into the ground through risk and shortsightedness and rewards them with taxpayer money. We understand when they cut salaries and benefits and lay off employees to get through the lean times, then fail to notice when those jobs don’t come back when the company is healthier.
This is about a society that is being taken apart by rich, old, white men whose ethics and morality bend to their own convenience and fails to question the sincerity of the very people who are out to screw it.
This is about a society that not only buys the absurdly transparent and self-serving lie that the only thing you need to get rich is hard work, but fails to see the hypocrisy in a political system where businesses have a right to make a profit but people don’t have a right to physical and economic security.
I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because we all buy the American dream on some level. I know I’ve got plans for my second house when I get rich, and all I have are a couple hundred dollars in my checking account and a set of skills the market doesn’t value anymore. I’ve dreamed on my millions when I hit the lottery, or sell my bestselling book, and I’ve blanched at even paying the taxes that come with wealth, to say nothing of potentially taking less than I could have to give others what they need.
It’s not fair.
And that’s not the point.
Fairness has gotten us to the point where money buys not only comfort and security but political influence, and the best way to get money is to have it to start. If that’s fair, perhaps we should start looking for a different standard, or at least a different definition.
I don’t expect a society that values the individual more than any other to change overnight into a communitarian utopia. I’m just frustrated.
We, the not-so-rich-you-have-live-in-servants, have been sold a bill of goods by the plutocrats. I made a bad deal, and I want to take it back. I want to renegotiate my contract with my society. I want only what the NHL owners want.
I want to fix these problems so they can’t do it to us again next time.
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