Liberal Columbia University professor Dorian Warren compared the Occupy Wall Street protests to the NBA lockout on CNN Monday, saying that the players are using their "voice" and "bargaining power" to air their grievances with the owners like the protesters are doing with the banks.
"Record profits last year in the NBA, yet the owners are saying they don't have enough money to share with the players," Warren said of the lockout. "And so, the players are, unlike most American workers, staying strong in their union to say, no, we actually have a voice here and we have bargaining power and we're not going to let you get away with that."
Co-host Alina Cho didn't exactly challenge Warren's bizarre assumption, being content to let him expound his pro-union view of the lockout and the protests as he blamed the decline of unions for America's income inequality.
"In 1950s, one in three American workers was a member of a union. Now, it's less than 1 in 10," Warren stated. "And so, I think that's related to the rise in inequality over the last thirty years, the declining unionization."
Cho could have challenged Warren's case on multiple counts. The average NBA player's salary, as of this past summer, is $5.15 million, certainly far more than the average Wall Street protester who is employed. The players have a distinct advantage in the amount of their savings on hand for an extended strike.
In addition, the players haven't exactly taken to the streets, disobeyed the municipal authorities, or been arrested in confrontations with the police.
"Interesting perspective, and I encourage people to read this Washington Post op-ed from Sunday," Cho concluded the interview.
A transcript of the segment, which aired on October 31 at 7:17 a.m. EDT, is as follows:
ALINA CHO: Our in-depth look at the Occupy Wall Street movement this week. They're known for fighting against the one-percenters, the very wealthy. So, what do they have in common with the very well-paid, extremely well-off stars of the NBA? More than you think. Our next guest says that. Dorian Warren is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Columbia University. He specializes in studying inequality in American politics. Dorian, it's nice to see you.
So, LeBron James, he makes $16 million a year, he has a $90 million contract with Nike, firmly in the one percent. But you actually say he has a lot in common with the Occupy protesters. How so?
DORIAN WARREN, assistant professor of Political Science, Columbia University: Well, he and his fellow players are raising grievances with the owners, much like the Occupy Wall Street protesters are, saying around Wall Street banks.
Record profits last year in the NBA, yet the owners are saying they don't have enough money to share with the players. And so, the players are, unlike most American workers, staying strong in their union to say, no, we actually have a voice here and we have bargaining power and we're not going to let you get away with that.
CHO: Well – and you mentioned the unions. In fact, you say the NBA players have one significant advantage over the other 88 percent of workers in America, and that is they belong to a union, right?
WARREN: That's right.
CHO: And you say, actually, the disintegration of unions in this country has exacerbated the problem.
WARREN: That's right. In 1950s, one in three American workers was a member of a union. Now, it's less than 1 in 10. And so, I think that's related to the rise in inequality over the last thirty years, the declining unionization. And what's interesting is that the NBA players themselves recognize this.
So when Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, for instance, in February attacked public sector workers, the NBA Players Union stood with those public sector workers and defended union rights of all workers in this country, so –
CHO: What do you say to people who say unions are the problem, then?
WARREN: Well, if they were the problem then – and there's – they have much more influence than you would imagine, right? At 12 percent of the workforce. That's down from, again, 35 percent when we had shared prosperity and we had less inequality and we had more economic growth. So, you have two snapshots here. When unions were strong, we were stronger as a country and more equal. Unions are weak, we're more unequal, less economic growth, economic collapse.
CHO: You know, I read an article in the "The New York Times" recently that really stuck with me on the Occupy movement, and one line – and I'll read it to you – "No matter how instrumental new media have become in spreading protests these days, nothing replaces people taking to the streets." And, you know, when you see those pictures, and I mean let's keep in mind, this has gone global –
CHO: – it really is extraordinary, and you say this is a significant moment.
WARREN: This is a significant moment. I think we're seeing an emergence of a social movement of people actually making two kinds of claims. The first is that economic inequality and our economic system doesn't work for everybody. And second, that our political system is broken. And there's a link between both of those things.
That the people that are benefiting from the economy get to buy their way in Washington and that most average people, most average Americans don't have a voice in the political system and don't have a future in the economy.
CHO: But let's talk about this because we're now two months into the protests and there are some people who, frankly, have – still have a hard time understanding what it's all about. They know they're mad at the 99 percent –
CHO: – I mean, at the one percent.
WARREN: One percent, right.
CHO: And that they're the 99 percent. But some have argued, critics have argued that they're not good on solutions, and that's part of the problem and maybe is that why they're not even, you know, a bigger presence and more significant in terms of our collective memory?
WARREN: Well, I think it's important to put this in context. So, we're two months in, but the most successful movement of the 20th Century, the Civil Rights Movement – Rosa Parks, Montgomery Bus Boycott, 1955. Five years later, 1960, student sit-ins. Next year, 1961, the freedom rides. We didn't get the Civil Rights Act until 1964 –
WARREN: – right? And then the Voting Rights Act of '65. And I'm not saying it's going to take 10 years for the Occupy Wall Street movement to see legislative success, but when you think about social movements broadly, it takes a while and we're only two months in.
CHO: Hm-hmm. All right. And you're right, the Civil Rights Movement – people are still fighting.
WARREN: Yes, right.