The Milwaukee Bucks need one more victory over the Orlando Magic to advance to the second round of the NBA playoffs. But as the end-of-warmup buzzer sounded on Wednesday afternoon, the court was empty. Instead of getting ready for tip-off, the Bucks were demanding to talk to the Attorney General of Wisconsin.
The Bucks refused to play to protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, an hour south of Milwaukee. Officers from the Kenosha Police Department shot Blake, a twenty-nine-year-old black man, in the back. Blake is currently paralyzed and unconscious. His three young children witnessed the shooting.
In other words, the Milwaukee Bucks went on strike. They risked losing money and career advancement to demand justice.
Most of us will never be able to waltz past Gary Clark like Giannis. But almost anyone can go on strike with their coworkers. If you decide to do it, you can make a big difference in your own life and in the lives of other people.
Talk With Your Coworkers
A strike means you and your coworkers refuse to do your jobs until your boss (or sometimes the government) meets your demands. If you’re going to take effective action at work, you’ve got to know what your coworkers care about.
As a league made up overwhelmingly of young black men — including some like Bucks guard Sterling Brown, who was tased and arrested by a police officer in 2018 — it is obvious why the issue of police brutality and police murder is important to many NBA players. Over the past twenty-four hours, several NBA teams have been talking about boycotting games this week.
Talking things through is important because strikes are always risky. You can lose your job, lose out on wages, and more. You and your coworkers need to understand what the specific risks are, whether you’re all willing to tolerate them, and how to overcome them. You can only do that together.
You Can’t Just Talk. You Have to Act.
As Raptors point guard Fred VanVleet put it, “What are we willing to give up? Do we actually give a f— about what’s going on? Or is it just cool to have Black Lives Matter on the backdrop or wear a t-shirt? What does that really mean?”
Just talking about what’s wrong at work — or in the world — won’t change it. Talking is an essential start, but you have to be ready to act. You need a specific plan to win, one that takes into account the tactics your boss might use to fight back, and how to overcome them.
Withhold Your Labor and Hit the Boss Where It Hurts
The NBA is big money — not just for the league owners and advertisers, but for cities and states, too. But workers have power in every single workplace on earth. When workers refuse to do their jobs, their boss can’t make money.
This is what makes them worth the risk, as long as you’ve planned them right. Bosses get desperate fast when the money is cut off. That means a well-planned strike can win major concessions from your boss or the government.
It wasn’t just one or two of the Bucks who sat out the game. It was the whole team. Though they’re bent on defeating each other on the court, off the court, the Raptors and the Celtics talked together to be on the same page. After all, they are all part of the same union, one with a history of fighting the boss.
According to reports, high-level NBA executives attempted to meet with the Bucks in their locker room to pressure them into playing. The Bucks stuck together and refused to come out of the locker room.
As more teams began to discuss striking on Wednesday, the league was forced to postpone all games planned for today.
Make Demands You Can Actually Win
Just like you might not be able to dunk on James Harden, you and your coworkers might not be able to get the state attorney general on the phone. The good news is you don’t need to.
The important thing is to think about demands your boss can actually meet. (Hint: it will always be more than they claim they can do, but less than you wish they could do.) Think about how much power you’re able to exercise, and make your demands correspond to how much power you and your coworkers have.
Never Cross a Picket Line
The NBA’s rules allowed the Orlando Magic to claim a win when the Bucks refused to come onto the court. The Magic refused, because they knew that their shared interests with the Bucks as players and as young black men in America outweighed the short term gain.
Had the Magic taken the win, they would have been crossing a picket line. Crossing a picket line — doing business with a company whose workers are on strike, or even taking a job to replace striking workers — hurts everyone. Don’t do it, ever.
Learn From the Pros
If you’re thinking a strike might make a difference at your workplace, talk to someone who has experience. If there’s no union at your job already, reach out to the Emergency Worker Organizing Committee, a joint project of the United Electrical Workers union and the Democratic Socialists of America. You’ll hear from an experienced labor organizer, and your conversations will be kept entirely confidential.
Because it’s going to take more than the Bucks to put a stop to racist shootings, poverty, and exploitation. It’s going to take all of us.