The History of Pro Wrestling and Labor Relations

There is a great article today up at Jacobin magazine about labor relations and professional wrestling. Go read it:

I grew up a fan of professional wrestling, cheering the cartoony characters of Hulk Hogan, the Macho Man and the Ultimate Warrior in the 1980s. In the 1990s, while living overseas in the Middle East, one of the most popular US cultural imports was “Attitude Era” wrestling featuring Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock. For awhile, wrestling hit the headlines because of serious topics like steroid abuse and the hard physical toll taken on performers’ bodies (anyone familiar with Mick Foley knows what I mean).

But comparatively little attention has been paid to wrestlers as workers. Existing a nebulous space somewhere between athlete and entertainter, pro wrestlers must contend with the contant injuries and exhaustion of professional sports players, while also striving to be as charismatic and engaging as a musician or movie actor. Despite these demands, they have no union and do not collectively bargain; their contracts favor management by a large margin. Most are taken on with speculative deals with no benefits or guarantees, and almost all of them live in constant fear they will be cut without any sort of ceremony, forced to return to the independent promotions where they have to depend on unreliable bookers for mere handfuls of cash in order to take huge amounts of punishment in front of small crowds of notoriously fickle fans.

Regardless of what you think about their profession, wrestlers are people too, and they deserve respect and fair working conditions and contracts. Jacobin and the article’s writer, Dan O’Sullivan, deserve a lot of credit for shining the light on an often marginalized and trivialized industry.


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