Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Leftism and Wrestling: Suplex for 15

Wrestle Circus introduced tipping, which plays into a bigger question of economics in wrestling
Graphics via WrestleCircus.com
Even though capitalists and conservatives run and populate the wrestling business, as an artform, it lends itself to leftist ideals. This series hopes to show wrestling fans why they should embrace the left, not just for the sport/art, but also for themselves.

In the United States of America, most workers have a minimum hourly rate for their services, provided they're not working a la carte jobs for a lump sum. It varies from state to state, municipality to municipality, but each rate cannot go lower than the national, federally mandated value. The big exception, however, is for waitstaff, or servers at a restaurant. Their minimum wage can be several times lower than the federal level because they work on tips, or gratuity added onto the bill. Unless the restaurant has a policy for mandatory gratuity, and most only require it after the number of people in dining party exceeds a certain number, usually six, the amount of money received by the server is at the discretion of the diner/dining party. That is to say, the server can theoretically work an entire shift and make no money on top of the piddling hourly wage they get if they somehow hit a streak of miserly assholes. Trust me, I've worked in the service industry as a busboy and have seen people stingily leave tips approaching zero percent. People tend to treat the enterprise of tipping as if they're judging a server on performance which at times is dependent on other factors out of their control.

Basically, the tip economy is a cruel place to earn a living, which is why people are fighting to end the practice and replace gratuity-based earnings with a flat rate starting at least at the federal minimum wage. ON top of that, leftist causes across the country are fighting to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour. Opponents argue that higher labor costs will wreck economies, despite the fact that raising the wages of workers across the board gives them more money to spend and thus stimulates local spending. It's working in Seattle, despite rash of conservative dillholes yelling about how it's a failure because employers are depressing low-income workers' hours. To me, that sounds like less a problem with the people earning the money and more with capital trying to circumvent the rules and depress wages in other ways than paying below market value for labor. These tricks are only new wrinkles in an old strategy. "Right-sizing" businesses, firing tenured employees for younger, cheaper, less experienced workers, outsourcing jobs to poorer countries, hiring undocumented immigrants to work illegally for slave wages, and automation are all ways that capital has successfully ravaged the working class in exchange for profits.

For those in the gig economy like independent wrestlers, those who work discrete units of work for a lump sum price, the wage warfare is an even trickier enterprise. You're not beholden to an hourly wage; your jobs are divided out by how much revenue is expected to be generated. This situation is why so many indie promoters run at losses unless they can depress wages or reduce overhead. Chikara, for example, curiously has shed a good bit of its famous, veteran talent in favor of wet-behind-the-ears Wrestle Factory grads and runs most of its shows from a wrestling school that Mike Quackenbush is already paying rent on whether or not he uses it for shows or not. Not surprisingly, he's rightfully caught fire for the practice. However, you're fooling yourself if you believe he's the only one trying to engage in shady, payout-depressing practices. Not surprisingly, wrestlers have leaned more on merchandise to attempt to supplement their wrestling-related income. Wrestling Circus has gone a step beyond by providing digital tipping for for performers.

The Circus being the first outfit to encourage a tip jar, digital or not, is strange since it is reputed as offering some of the fattest pay envelopes, which begs the question as to what the catch is. I've heard from birds around the wrestling community that the tipping service via Twitch, the Circus' digital distribution partner, may be easily manipulated. But at face value, anything that gets the boys and girls more money is a good thing. Everyone's in this together, right? Well, the tipping thing inspired an unnamed EVOLVE worker to put out a literal tip jar at his merch table. Giving someone money digitally is effectively the same as doing it in person, which is to say that this Wrestle Circus thing, even if it ends up that the company skims off the top of the digital pile, has at least influenced guys to put out their own physical means of collection. This act went over as well with wannabe arch-capitalist, self-proclaimed booking genius, WWE teat-suckler, and WWN Live head honcho Gabe Sapolsky. He posted a bitchy rant about how tipping is tacky or that if someone wanted to make extra money that they should drive for Lyft, who along with Uber and other rideshare "companies" are only the second biggest violators of the independent contractor label after WWE. Wrestle Circus, oddly enough, screenshotted the rant from Sapolsky's private Facebook page mistakenly thinking it was about its own company, only to delete it after catching heat.

Of course, Sapolsky is against wrestlers using their own agency to get ahead and not falling in line under his oppressive thumb. He's got a track record to maintain, you know. Regardless of the fact that Sapolsky is the poster child for a man whose reputation is inflated by those who worked for him, attempting to depress the wages of talent is cruel, especially when you ask from your wrestlers what Sapolsky does of his on a regular basis. I'm not sure what he pays his talent, but I guarantee you that it isn't enough. To be fair, that criticism is not unique to his blustery ass; find me an indie wrestler who brings in what he or she is worth, and I'll show you any combination of inhuman hustle, insane merch sales, former WWE employee status, and/or an in with New Japan. That membership is small and may only apply to the Young Bucks and Cody Rhodes at this point.

Of course, Sapolsky lives at one extreme end of overreaction. I'm waiting for another "enterprising" promotion to start putting his talent on the tip economy completely. The gate and Internet-pay-per-view revenue belongs to the "office" while all the wrestlers get tip jars or work off their merchandise sales. Evil capitalism at its most Ayn Randian end is an inevitability in the business most beholden to the drug of the market without the largess other industries have as a high. Of course, people will blame Wrestle Circus for introducing the idea, but until the moment when the promotion stops offering that fat envelope independent of tipping, the blame will go on the asshole who decides to swing the overreaction completely in the other direction.

Correlating the Fight for 15 to indie wrestling payouts, especially in light of tipping (which the Fight for 15 wishes to eradicate), feels tenuous except for the unifying rallying cry that workers deserve higher wages across the board. In the real world, this objective is easier attained because of the guarantee of hourly wages and the sheer amount of money available. For wrestling though, the means to get to the objective of higher wages for labor are far murkier, especially given that so many promoters run in the red or close to it. On one hand, most indie wrestlers have nine-to-five jobs, so the increased wages will allow them to sweat cheap promoters or non-lucrative gigs a lot less. More money for workers also means more disposable income for fans to spend either going to shows, buying merchandise, or yes, tipping wrestlers extra. The Fight for 15 may not have a direct correlation in wrestling, but if you think it doesn't benefit wrestlers or wrestling in general to have higher wages across the board, you're not thinking broadly enough.