RBTR – Unions

Mitchell Gadd

Hello everybody, and welcome to another edition of Reading Between The Ropes. With Vince McMahon monopolizing the wrestling industry, it seems that the power has been taken away from the wrestlers themselves. Wrestlers do not have the power to turn around and say they don’t like things at Titan and jump ship to the competition. Today it seems that if the wrestlers don’t like it… tough! There aren’t many other alternatives.

TNA has been making strides, but in terms of their stature in comparison to the WWE, they’re not even close yet. ROH has a huge cult following, but, that is it; it’s a cult following. The WWE has even gone as far as to create fake competition for itself. The Raw and Smackdown! brands compete with one another as to create the illusion that there is still competition in the wrestling business, but, regrettably, the wars and competition were over a long, long time ago (ironically, even this fake competition has become farcical. Raw has taken a lot of the talent away from Smackdown! and it seems that the WWE is doing their utmost to make Smackdown! WCW to Raw’s WWE).

So, with such a monopoly, the wrestlers can either like it or lump it, and often they’re shown the door no matter what. The revolving door at Titan sees many faces come and go and fans hardly bat an eyelid. However, we need to look deeper at the constant dismissal of talent. This is their job. This is their livelihood.

Over the past few years the WWE has fired talent who were rehabbing an injury (Test), and a married couple (Jackie Gayda and Charlie Hass), who were both fired on the same day. To fire a married couple on the same day instantly takes away both partner’s source of income, and could leave them in a very precarious financial situation. The wrestlers have no protection nowadays.

So, how can the wrestlers help get their power back? How can they relieve themselves of a situation where they are forced to accept any situation and circumstance they are presented with, otherwise they face a queue in the unemployment line and a sentence to the dustbin of wrestling history?

One word: Unions.

Baseball has it, football has it, soccer has it, hockey has it (one only needs to look at the recent pay dispute to realise it’s influence). All sports have it. Yes, wrestling isn’t considered a legitimate sport, but wrestlers are no less an athlete or sportsman than representatives of “legitimate sports”. They work tougher schedules, put their bodies on the line just as much, and devote their lives to a business that often tears them away from their families. They deserve the same protection that a Jerome Iginla, Barry Bonds, David Beckham, and Kobe Bryant get.

It’s time that a wrestler be freed from making a choice between either wearing a stupid costume, portraying a ridiculous gimmick and being put in an uncomfortable situation or being fired. Wrestlers shouldn’t be made to dress in a certain way outside of shows, when walking the street, as Johnny Ace tried to implement a couple of years ago. It shouldn’t come down to that. Yes, I understand that those who pay your wages have certain rights in terms of what they can expect you to do, but human beings have rights, and employees certainly have rights.

Nearly all major modern day professions have unions. Why should wrestling be left behind? Vince McMahon has laughed at the prospect of unions for years. You may remember the gimmick he created during the ‘Attitude’ era of The Union, where wrestlers like Mick Foley and Big Show dressed in plain attire with t-shirts sporting the word ‘Union’ and a ridiculous theme that bellowed out ‘Chooo! Choooo! UNION!’ The wrestlers formed the group because they were mistreated by the Corporation and WWE management. It was yet again another case of McMahaon using his position to amuse himself, and poke fun in an in-joke sort-of-way at those who cried out for better treatment. It was his way of saying “You want a Union… by God, you’ll get one!”

But behind the scenes there is no union. There is hazing, there is initiation and there is locker room law. Randy Orton is an infamous locker room character who takes, shall we say, an aggressive approach when it comes to new female employees (Amy Weber anyone?). The Undertaker is considered a locker room leader by many. Bob Holly and John Layfield are notorious hazers if your speak to industry insiders. You may remember Holly’s approach to young tough enough upstart Matt Capotelli, and his reaction to Rene Dupree borrowing his rental car and getting him a ticket.

The basic concept of initiation and hazing is that people need to be trusted. If they can withstand the initiation process, then they may just be tough enough and strong enough to handle the pressures and toll that a life on the road as a wrestler takes. It also comes down to trust. These wrestlers see each other more than their families. They travel up and down the country with them. They enter the ring with them and they put their lives in the hands of the other man, trusting him that he won’t drop him on his head or hurt him. They need to be able to trust these other men, so, what better way to do it than an initiation process? As James Guttman puts it in his book World Wrestling Insanity, “If you can keep your focus in the ring after having your head held in a toilet, you can keep your focus after anything.” I don’t agree with how some wrestlers go about this initiation process (Holly beating up Dupree in the RING sort of defeats the whole point of this), but you can understand the basic logic behind it. However, there is a deeper question at hand.

Why does the WWE allow this to happen? Why does the WWE let locker room law and hazing go on? Why wasn’t Bob Holly reprimanded for his actions, and instead granted a run at the Tag Team Titles with Charlie Haas? Do they agree with the basic principles of locker room law? I’m sure they do because, in theory, it’s a good premise, but there is another reason why Vince allows this ‘boys will be boys’ and college fraternity-like mentality. What could that be then, Mitch?

Well, a self-policing locker room is an occupied locker room. It keeps wrestlers busy; whether thinking about how to initiate the new guy, what punishment to give out to this other guy, how to settle a disagreement, or how to keep spirits high in the dressing room. Charlie Haas admitted in World Wrestling Insanity that once the office found out who was trying to form unions, they’d get rid of them. Well, simply, more people need to try. There are far more dispensable people who are members of unions (all major supermarkets have unions). Wrestlers need to stop the attitude that if they form a union they will be replaced. Every time the wrestlers make excuses for not forming a union, they give McMahon more power over them. They need strength in numbers. They need more wrestlers to stand up and start thinking about their rights instead of being “busy worrying about things like putting their bags in the right area, shaking hands with the respected members of the locker room and making sure they keep out of ‘Wrestler Court'” (Guttman). The WWE has created a working environment where wrestlers are kept busy with other interests and distracted from more pressing issues, such as securing a better livelihood for the wrestlers of today and tomorrow.

For a business, an entertainment industry, and a sport, all rolled in to one, wrestling and the WWE in particular are sure as hell missing something that businesses, the entertainment industry and sporting bodies have in abundance. Unions. Wrestlers need to stop worrying about Wrestler Court, and start worrying about health insurance, pension schemes and the like. These guys deserve it just as much as anyone in any walk of life, and it’s time they started getting it.

The WWE, basically, is the wrestling business right now. It stands alone. Vince McMahon owns a monopoly. This gives him complete and utter power over wrestlers who want to make it to the big time. However, unionizing may begin to take some power away from McMahon, and may start putting it back in the hands of the athletes themselves. These guys put their body, mind and soul on the line for wrestling fans, and I, for one, would like to see a little bit more given back to them. For a modern day profession, wrestling is lagging in the dark ages when it comes to unions, and until the wrestlers are willing to swap Wrestler Court for employee rights and health insurance schemes, then wrestlers will continue to be in just as much danger outside the ring as they are in it.

Until next time,

Mitchell L. Gadd

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