A Quick Review of “Solidarity”

Recently, a post from last fall on the Theft of Labor, brought this comment:

“If the intern or the college athlete feels like they are getting an outstanding deal, is it your job to convince them otherwise?”

My spam filter held it up. At first, I thought it was a rather tricky robot trying to get its url posted, but then thought that this was a real person and, even if the poster isn’t, it still raises a good topic. It speaks to the value of solidarity. Why should we tell people how they should go about making a living? Because we share our world and no one acts in a vacuum.

The short answer is “Yes”. How does the college athlete or intern “know” they are getting a good deal? College athletes are barred from having agents to speak for them. Interns, by definition, are outside of a bargaining group. In addition, these are kids who still do most of their banking at the “Mom and Pop Savings and Loan”.

If it is a really good deal, then it won’t be a theft of labor. Getting a 4 year degree at a quality liberal arts college may be worth playing football for four years (especially if the team isn’t a Division I elite school). I certainly wasn’t arguing that we can only be a cash-basis society. I have no problem with bartering and Time Banking.

However, helping the UW or Miami generate hundreds of millions of dollars for a paltry $20 K a year education benefit (especially if one is a star athlete) seems like exploitation to me.

At the root though is that all of this “free” labor waters down the value of work. A lot of the work of interns might be done just as well (and more efficiently) by administrative assistants earning a living wage and benefits who can then send their kids to college.

Major League Baseball runs its own farm system at its own cost. The NBA and NFL use taxpayer funded colleges and universities to prepare their future employees. That doesn’t pass the smell test to me.

By ignoring this, we only continue the race to the bottom. Solidarity is based on the notion that if we stick together, we can improve society for everyone or, as our founding fathers so aptly noted, “if we don’t hang together, we shall surely hang separately.” If I come in an undercut your salary to get your job, then what is to stop someone else from doing that to me?

We are all in this together and finding short term advantages for individuals does not build a sustainable society.

About John McNamara

John spent 26 years with Union Cab of Madison Cooperative and currently helps develop co-ops in the Pacific Northwest. He holds a Ph.D. in Business Administration and Masters in Management: Co-operatives and Credit Unions from Saint Mary's University.
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