Sunday, November 6, 2016

Who gives a damn about the World Series?

John Baptiste Pointe du Sable, Founder of Chicago
By Jason O’ Neal

As a lifelong baseball fan enamored with the sport since I began playing Little League when I was eight years old, I have mixed emotions about the 2016 MLB World Series Game 7 between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland “Native Americans”.  For many years I was a season ticket holder at a nameless major league park before I realized my working class wages should not be supporting a private club of billionaires who pay grown men to play a child’s game for millions of dollars in publicly funded state-of-the-art sports stadiums. 

Now, before readers start to think this is a rant against fanatics of professional sports, I want everyone to know I lived the better part of my life wrapped up in the daily statistics and league standings of multiple sports at the local, collegiate, and professional level.  I also know the history of the Chicago Cubs and their century-long championship drought since the last time they won the series in 1908.  This story is not about baseball in the “Windy City,” rather it’s the truth about the real world and the working class people who live in it.  This story also rings true for workers in Cleveland, Detroit, and even the Oakland area where I currently live.

Let us begin…

Chicago, Chi-town, and “Chi-raq”(the title of a 2015 movie about the urban war between rival gangs and the police) are just a few of the names for the third most populace city in the United States.  Chicago also happens to be a major commercial center for finance, industry, telecommunications, technology, and agriculture in North America.  However, and often forgotten by history books, great material progress is always accompanied by increased suffering for the less fortunate.  The Chicago Tribune reports there have already been 632 homicides this year surpassing the yearly total of 492 from 2015.  This is an increase of more than 28 percent.  So, why shouldn’t we talk about more than just baseball in Chicago?

More than one hundred years before the last time the Cubbies ruled supreme in the world of baseball, which broadcast games across the country via radio in 1908, the city of Chicago was a Native American settlement on the banks of Lake Michigan.  An African-French fur trader took up residence there in 1790 and founded the city.  That’s right!  A black man was founder of a city in America more than half a century before the Civil War.  Two decades after the territory became part of the United States the city of Chicago was incorporated in 1833.  In less than fifteen years Chicago would become an important shipping hub for the Great Lakes and Erie Canal as railroads began supplying its harbor docks with increased food production from the Midwest.  This led to the establishment of the Chicago Board of Exchange in 1848 which boosted the power of rich capitalists who could buy up surplus beef and grain so they could ship them to foreign markets. This was especially true during times of military conflict, such as the Crimean War in 1853. 

However, local farmers and ranchers were subjected to the price controls placed on their products by wealthy investors who wanted to maximize their profits overseas.  A common occurrence in speculation markets is the formation of investment bubbles and Chicago has experienced this more than its fair share.  During world trade crises foreign consumer markets were not able to purchase the surplus commodities from Chicago and prices would plummet sending most working family farmers into bankruptcy and foreclosure on their properties.  Penniless, and without land, they would be forced into the ghettos of Chicago to sell their labor to the capitalists who controlled the means of production.  This tragedy, along with the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which left one third of the three hundred thousand people in the city homeless, all took place before baseball was even organized into a “sporting” pastime.

In a country which gives too much credit to the titans of industry, the stories of common working class people are often ignored and lost to the passage of time.  It must be remembered that Chicago has endured not because of rich philanthropists and politicians, but because of the strength and hard work of the people who live there.  Aside from sports fame and links to great music and cultural arts, Chicago has a very rich and vibrant history with working class struggles in America.  Some of the more important events to have taken place in Chicago are as follows:

Nationwide Railroad Strike, July 1877 – Without a union, thousands of railway and factory workers (mostly European immigrants) take to the streets in class solidarity across division lines of trade, ethnicity, and gender.  They were met by police, militia, and federal troops which resulted in the deaths of thirty workers and another two hundred wounded.
Haymarket Riot May 4th, 1886
Haymarket Square Riot, May 4, 1886 - Fifteen hundred workers rallied for an eight-hour workday and a violent explosion rocked the crowd.  This particular demonstration was part of more than three hundred separate strikes which included nearly ninety thousand workers demanding a shorter workday.  Four protestors were killed, seventy injured and more than one hundred were arrested.  Seven cops were killed with more than sixty injured.  Eight radicals were convicted and some, like labor activist Albert Parsons, were executed without any real evidence connecting them to a crime.  The Haymarket Affair inspired workers from all over the world to declare May Day as International Workers’ Day.  Ironically, this is an event not even celebrated in the United States because our trade unions prefer an agreement with the bosses to have an “American” Labor Day in September. 

Pullman Strike, May 11, 1894 - Four thousand factory workers at the Pullman Palace Car Company in south Chicago initiated a wildcat strike to fight against wage decreases and layoffs.  When the cops and National Guard moved in to suppress the action thirty workers were killed and fifty-seven were injured.  The strike also included a boycott with nearly two hundred and fifty thousand workers from twenty-seven states standing in solidarity with their working class brothers. 

“The Jungle”, February 26, 1906 – First appearing in the Socialist newspaper Appeal to Reason in 1905, Upton Sinclair’s novel was published exposing the harsh conditions for exploited workers (mostly immigrants, women and children) in the Chicago meatpacking industry.  Sinclair, an American journalist and novelist who wrote about corruption in government and business, had spent weeks working in the processing plants and stockyards of Chicago.  The popularity of his novel pressured Congress to pass the Meat Inspection Act.  Even President Roosevelt had to agree with Sinclair when he stated, “radical action must be taken to do away with the efforts of arrogant and selfish greed on the part of the capitalist."  In 1934, Sinclair would campaign as a socialist for Governor of California as part of the “End Poverty in California” movement.  Although the campaign was defeated by the two-party establishment, EPIC was a major influence on the New Deal legislation passed by Congress during the Great Depression. 

October 14, 1908 - The Chicago Cubs defeated the Detroit Tigers in five games to win the World Series.  The average attendance was 12,446 for each game with the winning player’s share of the prize equal to $1,318.  A grandstand seat at Chicago’s West Side Grounds (there was no Wrigley Field then) was a whopping $1.50.  On a side note, according to CNN Money, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was trading at a colossal 63 points on this day.  It should be noted the Federal Reserve was not yet created and the influence of financial firms, technology, and retail industries had not yet taken over the stock market.

October 9, 1919 – The Chicago White Sox were defeated by the Cincinnati Reds in eight games during the World Series Championship.  Links to organized crime and sports gambling bookies led to accusations that the White Sox intentionally lost the championship in exchange for cash.  A trial ensued where the players were exonerated, however, Major League owners had agreed to appoint a former federal judge, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, as the first “Commissioner of Baseball” with unlimited authority over players and teams.  His first action in office was to ban those players implicated in the scandal from ever playing professional baseball again.

During the Roaring Twenties, the Stock Market Crash in 1929, and the Great Depression, Chicago’s reputation as a center for organized crime grows with the popularity of notorious gangsters.  The most popular outlaws were Al Capone, “Babyface” Nelson, and John Dillinger (who loved attending Cubs games when in town).  In the late 1930s workers in basic industry finally won the right to form labor unions without courts imposing injunctions forcing them back to the job. 

Memorial Day Massacre, May 30, 1937 – Workers and supporters attempted to picket in front of Republic Steel in Chicago’s southeast side.  Marchers and their families were met by police violence leaving ten protesters dead and more than ninety more injured from clubs, tear gas, and bullets.

During the first two years following World War II more than five million American workers participated in strikes across several industries in Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh, New York, and Oakland.  Congress reacted to the largest strikes in American history by passing the Taft-Hartley Act, which restricted the power and activities of labor unions.  Although vetoed by President Truman, it was overridden by Republicans and Democrats in the United States House of Representatives and the Senate.  The act is still in force today.
DNC 1968
Democratic National Convention Protest, August 25, 1968 – Tens of thousands of anti-Vietnam War protesters, mainly students and veterans, converge on the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.  For eight days the city was a war zone where protesters fought with police and National Guard troops.  Reporters, photographers, and camera crews were also beaten by police who clubbed and arrested people by the hundreds.  Nearly six hundred were taken into custody and more than one hundred protesters were injured.   One hundred and nineteen police were injured.  Mayor Daly, of the Chicago Democratic Party political machine, maintained his support for the actions of the police and gave officers a raise after the riot.

Nearly fifty years later it is difficult to find anyone who knows anything about these events in working class history.  Issues like climate change, war, wealth disparity, privatization of social welfare, infrastructure collapse, unemployment, and homelessness are practically ignored. America is navigating a social crisis on multiple levels with a circus show masquerading as a presidential election.  Popular culture and entertainment, including sporting events, have become spectacles of distraction promoting hyper-patriotism through micro-nationalism and the expansion of tribal mentality.  Marx said in order for the ruling elite to ensure this happens it would require halting the evolutionary progress of society and sometimes, as in this case, instituting the structural digression of its working people.  How do we remedy the problems of the working class?  Nurture a delusional pride in sports championships and a few beers as a temporary sedative to the harsh realities of life.  It’s everywhere in our culture.  The “stupor” bowl in the NFL, the NBA Finals, and the World Series. 

Ask yourselves what did these meaningless titles given to teams of millionaire athletes do for the living conditions for working families in their cities?  During interviews we have to listen to them use the same old clichés about winning and teamwork while they express their superstitions and religious fervor giving thanks to an imaginary god for their athletic prowess, their last win, or latest sports award.  What does that do for soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq? Homeless families and veterans on the street with PTSD?  Prisoners in a commercial detention facility?  The answer is nothing.  Nothing at all.

Cleveland lost the World Series a few days ago, but the people who live there still have an NBA Championship to flaunt around in a city deindustrialized by free trade agreements and investment flight as businesses packed up and relocated to some far-off developing country.  That sports title was won by defeating the basketball team from Oakland, where the Golden State Warriors held the title of champion the previous year, but also where working families and retirees are being evicted from their homes by real estate developers and bankers.  City and county councils, cash-strapped and hungry for tax revenue, are doing nothing to help workers as gentrification and greedy landlords are driving people into the street.  To see what the future has in store for many cities you need look no further than Detroit.  A city which was once the gold standard for industrial production in the world is now a desolate shanty town with no jobs, no services, and wild dogs roaming the streets attacking citizens.  A foreign war correspondent once said the conditions in Detroit reminded him of Mogadishu, Somalia.  I disagree.  Mogadishu doesn’t have two sports stadiums funded by taxpayers in their third-world community.

This leads me back to another pressing question.  Who is actually able to afford tickets to these games?  The average ticket price for the final game of this year’s World Series was $4,314.  A set of tickets near the Cubs dugout went for $80,000 apiece.  How can working class people afford to go to these games?  They don’t.  Wealthy people from all over the country jet-set into O’Hare, stay at high dollar hotels, and catch a game at Wrigley Field while the average Chicago native watches the game on television.  The great American pastime is now just one of a multitude of programs sprinkled with commercials and advertising.  Even the sports stadiums are named after corporations. 

We have come a very long way from paying only $1.50 for a ticket to see a baseball championship, but we allowed ourselves to be lead in the wrong direction.  Perhaps nothing explains America’s fascination with baseball better than our economic system.  Winner take all no matter the cost, win one year and lose the next.  Unfortunately, our political system reinforces this economic idea, including the race for White House.  Hillary Clinton, when not pandering to voters in New York by acting like she’s a Yankees fan, wears a Chicago Cubs ball cap.  Her white upper-class upbringing prevents her from knowing anything about the struggles of working class Americans.  She has a track record of selling out working families and the poor in favor of Wall Street banks, insurance companies, and the military industrial complex. 

The other buffoon in the race will get no mention from me because he is a modern-day P.T. Barnum, but President Obama did wear White Sox jacket during his claims to be from Chicago.  He is part of the same political machine that has run Chicago since before Mayor Daly.  It’s also the same apparatus that gave Chicago its current mayor, Rahm Emanuel.  A former chief of staff for President Obama, Emanuel has been the mayor since 2011.  He has also deployed an all-out offensive against the Chicago Teacher’s Union.  Like other politicians from the two major parties they are puppets for big money and a corrupt labor aristocracy that has betrayed union members.  Homegrown politicians do nothing for Chicago or its people.  This is also true for the majority of America where militarized police forces murder people of color to enforce the rules of the wealthy.  Crime, violence, substance abuse are symptoms of a deeper problem in society.  Poverty. 

In the face of an upcoming economic recession made worse by the effects of climate change, and after more than fifteen years of perpetual war against terror, will the American working class finally stand up to the corrupt influence of corporate donations and the wealthy oligarchy?  I would like to think so, however, it will require a mass mobilization of working people independent of the two political parties and labor management.  The representatives of some five hundred Native American tribes and their allies are holding ground at Standing Rock in the Dakotas are showing us what must be done. 

There are also international movements where citizens are standing up to oppressive governments.  Imagine if the five million people who showed up in Chicago during the Cub’s parade and rally were actually participating in a direct action protest for preservation of the environment, better wages, education, healthcare, and living conditions.  How might things change?  The Chicago Federation of Labor has 320 affiliated unions with more than half a million members representing a diverse group of men and women throughout the area.  What could they accomplish if they stood together in solidarity with one another?  Until Chicago (and the rest of America) embraces its identity and the labor struggles of the past, people there can only look forward to another season of baseball and more of the corrupt status quo.  Let’s hope it doesn’t take another century, because degradation to the environment might not give us that long.                 


Tony Budak said...

Great write up.
Tony Budak

Sean said...

Comrade Jason, Thank you very very much for your outstanding and inspiring and informational article. As we say the struggle against capitalism is the struggle for the consciousness of the working class. Your article has really helped in this struggle. Sean O'Torain.