One of the most powerful weapons used against unions is to essentially write them out of history: children don't learn about unions in schools. Most politicians only mention unions when they are slumming for a check for their campaigns or they promise to put on sneakers and walk picket lines when elected but somehow that promise is forgotten once the election is over; they talk great rhetoric about the "middle class" but you almost never hear, unprompted and certainly not in front of crowds outside a union hall, a great speech about unions and their central place in making a healthy economy. Which is why the despicable refusal to elect Marvin Miller to baseball's Hall of Fame matters--and it should matter to every person who cares about unions, even if you've never watched a minute of baseball in your life.
Marvin Miller died yesterday:
Marvin Miller, an economist and labor leader who became one of the most important figures in baseball history by building the major league players union into a force that revolutionized the game, died on Tuesday at his home in Manhattan. He was 95.A couple of years ago, I tried to launch a campaign to get Marvin elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Part of that was a desire to recognize someone who, perhaps more than anyone outside the lines of the field, reshaped the game that I've loved since I was a boy. He gave players not just real money but dignity and respect.
By the time Mr. Miller retired at the end of 1982, he had secured his place on baseball’s Mount Rushmore by forging one of the strongest unions in America, creating a model for those in basketball, football and hockey.
Never had the dugout been so professionalized. The average player salary had reached $241,000, the pension plan had become generous, and players had won free agency and were hiring agents to issue their own demands. If they had a grievance, they could turn to an arbitrator. Peter Seitz, the impartial arbitrator who invalidated the reserve clause and created free agency in 1975, called Mr. Miller “the Moses who had led Baseball’s Children of Israel out of the land of bondage.”
But, the other piece was just as important. Refusing to induct Marvin into the Hall of Fame was not simply a personal snub by the owners, who have decisive votes on electing non-players to the Hall of Fame, and who hated Miller for, well, doing what unions do well--equalizing the balance of power in the workplace.
Marvin said it best:
“There’s been a concerted attempt to downplay the union,” Mr. Miller told The New York Times, referring to the Hall, when he narrowly missed out on election in December 2010, the fifth time he had been on the ballot. “It’s been about trying to rewrite history rather than record it. They decided a long time ago that they would downgrade any impact the union has had. And part of that plan was to keep me out of it.” [emphasis added]It's just another way to wipe the history of unions from the canvass. Imagine if the union's role was highlighted every day to the millions of people who are fans of the game.
When I called Marvin a couple of years ago to tell him about the idea of a campaign, I think he was both touched (it wasn't the first time people had taken up the banner) but also realistic that he would never live to see the day. He was right: he understood how petty the owners are, and how, unfortunately, new players today think their fortune, and great riches, just fell from the sky because of the great skills they possess.
And that is why this matters. Because part of the crisis for unions--not the only reason, or perhaps not even a central one--stems from people forgetting how the American Dream was built (putting aside, for a moment, whether that Dream ever existed and whether it was built on a fantasy). Not by the "job creators". Not by the political leaders.
But, by people who struggle every day--the people who went on strike, the people who organized and, yes, the people who provided leadership.