THE BLOG

One Possible Legacy of the Northwestern Football Players

04/04/2014 04:08 pm ET | Updated Jun 04, 2014

An article in today's Washington Post asks: "In a billion-dollar stadium with millionaire coaches, what are the student-athletes worth?" The answer is nothing -- nothing more than a shot at a degree "of sorts," food, and a roof over their heads. Bare, subsistence "wages," as it were, similar to those paid today by many hugely successful companies in America. Think Walmart.

Politely ask an enlightened boss if he'd kindly consider giving you a raise, and he'll give you a thousand reasons why he cannot; ask a more typically unenlightened boss and he'll very likely tell you to take a hike and show you the door.

For decades, the wages of American workers have stagnated while their employers; Wall Street and the "one Percent" have syphoned off our nation's wealth and income.

The Northwestern football team's effort to consolidate into, and be recognized as a labor union, legally entitled to require University management to bargain over the athletes' concerns, has attracted widespread media coverage. Whether they are ultimately successful in their campaign is a topic for future discussion.

What is important today is that the Northwestern media coverage is dramatizing, in a spectacular way, the fundamental need of workers to band together and collectively demand a seat at the economic table of Corporate America. And that media coverage is finding its way into millions of homes of sports-enthusiast workers who have been the target of a relentless, anti-union propaganda campaign in recent decades by Corporate America.

Patrick Henry's clarion call, "United We Stand, Divided We Fall," may again be heard -- in the workplace. Maybe the football players will awaken American workers to their similar need to band together and use their collective strength to bargain with their employers for their fair share of the wealth their labor has produced.


Arthur Fox, a Washington, DC, public interest litigator associated with Lobel, Novins & Lamont, LLP, has devoted his career to working within the union movement to assist democratic-minded union leaders, members and dissident groups to strengthen the collective bargaining process. He was a founder, in the 1970s, of the Teamster reform movement..