Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Leftism and Wrestling: Unions Unions Unions

Don't vilify Riddle; instead, support unions so everyone can have his clout
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
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.

Matt Riddle has been described as a lot of things, most of them good, but recently he's caught flak for taking conflicting bookings. Everyone wants to book him because he's such a hot property, so much so that he's taken on some dates that happen on the same day as other shows he agreed to be on. Specifically, he double-booked himself to be on both the Pro Wrestling Guerrilla and WWN Live Style Battle shows this coming Friday. It wouldn't be a problem if one show wasn't in the greater Tampa Bay area in Florida and the other in Reseda, CA. WWN Live won out, and PWG shuffled the deck chairs for its event, Man on the Silver Mountain. PWG gave no inkling as to whether it was only cancelling the one appearance or if Riddle's relationship with the company had been irreparably severed. Of course, the folks online didn't take too long to claim Riddle had burnt another bridge, referring to his public fallout from severing his relationship with Absolute Intense Wrestling. This reaction isn't surprising, but it feels disappointing, as it explicitly places blame for any mishap on the worker at worst, and at best, assumes a wrestling promotion is justified in freezing out labor over a mistake made or attitudes they deem bad.

The dirty truth about indie wrestling is that promoters are just as cold, ruthless, and cash-driven as their capital counterparts in more lucrative industries. The only reason why their problems seem like a plight is because the fountain of cash in any wrestling promotion that's not main roster WWE is more of a trickle. However, anyone trying to make a living wrestling below the corporate level is worse off, even if they're on the level of stardom like even Riddle, whose booking fees I'm not privy to, but can't be higher than some ex-WWE guys have been known to charge based on their ex-WWE status. Or maybe they are. Like I said, I don't know. But even if the disparity between Riddle's payment and other wrestlers' or the promoter's takehome is gigantic, the money is better off in Riddle's and other workers' pockets than it is in capital's. Capital, by definition, is the fruit of labor; it cannot exist without workers to produce it. So why is it that capital, even in such a business that lives by the margins as much as indie wrestling or even wrestling in general, is treated as if it deserves to hoard those fruits?

The left wing and the proletariat cannot fully dissuade humanity, whether wrestling fans or not, from its innate and disappointing tendency to admire and worship those with power and money. However, the effects of capital can be mitigated through unionization. Unions have been the single most important innovation in labor in human history. They have fought to get better wages, abolish child labor, set the eight hour workday and the 40 hour workweek, mandatory vacation, and many other innumerable rights for workers across the country. Labor unions have been instrumental in stemming the tide to wrest wealth from the hands of a capital that unfairly hoards it, but even as workers grow more frustrated with losing jobs to automation (or in the minds of lied-to conservative voters, "immigrants"), unions are losing ground and power.

In many Republican-controlled states, so-called "right to work" laws are being passed or at least being considered. The name is misleading. What they're actually doing is making it illegal to bar non-union labor at a jobsite and in turn allowing non-unionized labor to have the same benefits as union members without paying those pesky dues. Some will say this is a good thing, and it's because they're either capital-friendly, or they've been brainwashed by propaganda sprinkled in entertainment and media painting all union laborers as lazy and entitled. How many sports labor stoppages have been blamed on the owners rather than the players, especially by media? Hell, even The Simpsons joined in the fun mocking Teamsters, and Matt Groening's politics lean liberal, or at least they did once upon a time (and definitely during that season):

In reality, yes, unions have layabouts and malcontents, but dissolving every union in the world isn't going to cure the maladjusted worker. I'm sure everyone has an anecdote about someone who knows someone at a decidedly non-union job keep their employment for whatever reason. Conversely, unions have fostered some of the hardest working people that I know, my father included, my father especially. I won't regale you about all the late nights he worked and the times my mom virtually had to act like a single parent because of how much my dad had to work, because anecdotes are just that, anecdotes.

So when greedy shitfucking politicians like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker push these "right to work" laws as being great bastions for working Americans, what he really means is he wants to give his cronies easier recourse to fire workers for no other reason than replacing their job with a computer or a less-experienced person who'll do said job for a fraction of the wage. Those workers without union protection will have no recourse to get said job back. Those cronies can lower wages and standards for employees across the board, and when fewer people are in the union because the laws say that they don't have to be in one to get the same "protections," the unions become weaker. That's why you should always push for unionized labor in real life.

But how does this translate to professional wrestling? Well, unions among the wrestlers would help guys like Matt Riddle, or more accurately, help more workers stand up to promoters like Matt Riddle has. Riddle is an anomaly. He's not a dude who had to work his way up from some grimy school in ignominy to get a modicum of fame after five or so years in the biz. Sure, he had to learn how to wrestle, and I bet the good folks at the Monster Factory made him take down and set up his fair share of rings, but once he was ready for the ring, man, he had a name to back himself up. He was Matthew Riddle, competitor on The Ultimate Fighter. People knew who he was. They didn't know a Green Ant from your aunt in a green sweater until at least three years into his career, or a Matt Tremont from a mat made from recycled trees for maybe longer. Imagine what a union would do for their careers, for the people who've been lowballed, blackballed, or blueballed by promotions across the country. Hell, imagine what a union could do for wrestlers who do work for WWE or other major promotions.

If it weren't for Hulk Hogan, you wouldn't have had to have imagined. Jesse Ventura and Bobby Heenan tried to unionize in advance of WrestleMania 2. Ventura, according to his appearance on the Steve Austin podcast (transcribed here at Wrestling Inc.) gave a rah-rah speech in favor of it and even talked about letting the movement spread to "the boys in Charlotte" as he termed the wrestlers in Jim Crockett Promotions. Hogan ratted them out to Vince McMahon, and the movement was squashed. Ventura quit the company shortly after (albeit it was mostly over a dispute over him being allowed to co-star in Predator alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger, which again, could have been won for him with collective bargaining). No talk of unionization ever formed again. Ventura decided the fight with McMahon wasn't worth it if none of his comrades were into it, and he got his in the Screen Actors Guild.

With unionization, many wrestlers who have passed away could be alive today. I know if Owen Hart had a union backing him, maybe he'd have been able to fight the reckless stunt that cost him his life. Maybe with health insurance and preventative care, wrestlers wouldn't have had to turn to painkiller abuse and narcotics for self-medication. With retirement plans and other benefits, maybe the number of wrestlers who have to sadly shuffle along the indies or the convention circuit to cobble a meager living would be decreased. If you care at all about the people you enjoy watching, whether on USA Network or at the bingo hall, you'll support unionization. If you support your fellow workers in America,  you'll support unionization. And hey, the next time Matt Riddle gets into a dustup with an indie promoter who wants to get too big for his britches, maybe you'll think twice before making a comment about him burning another bridge and think "Hey, maybe if wrestlers had a union, it wouldn't just be Riddle doing the standing up."