In 1987 Jesse Ventura tried unsuccessfully to create a union for professional wrestlers. Hulk Hogan reported Ventura's activities to Vince McMahon, and the idea of a wrestlers' union was nipped in the bud. This was right about the time that the WWF (now WWE) achieved dominance over regional wrestling promotions in the United States. 

Still today professional wrestlers are regarded as independent contractors, with no job security. Even those who have coveted contracts with large promotions work without healthcare benefits, unemployment benefits, Medicare, or Social Security. Often those contracts specify that the promotion has the right to fire a wrestler if he or she fails to wrestle due to injury, thus encouraging injured wrestlers to work even at the risk of exacerbating the damage already done to their bodies.The top names at WWE make millions, as we know, but the majority of WWE wrestlers make less than $500,000 a year and are contractually obligated to pay their hospital expenses out of pocket, if injured, and their own travel expenses to and from over 200 shows a year. Often those contracts expressly deny royalties from character-related merchandise to the families of deceased wrestlers. The wrestlers' names, gimmicks, catchphrases, and signature moves are the legal property of WWE, not the workers. 

Many in this country are overtly hostile to the idea of workers' unions. "Socialism," they say. Usually they cite the corruption of union officials, as if the labor movement were uniquely subject to the corrupting influence of money and power. (Consider Wall Street; consider organized religion; consider the two-party system; consider the news media.) Today many economic conservatives would like to see unions entirely disbanded. They say organized labor unfairly restricts corporate power and profit-making. But unions gave us the 40-hour work week, weekends, vacation days, overtime pay, health benefits, workplace safety regulations, and so on. Unions countered the onerous work conditions of the Industrial Revolution, detailed in Upton Sinclair's The Jungle (1906). 

Labor Day has celebrated America's unions and workers since 1894, on the heels of US military personnel firing on and killing a number of labor organizers and railroad workers in the country's first nationwide strike. Today let's enjoy our barbecue, the start of football season, the temporary retirement of our white pants, and big discounts at the mall--and pay a tiny tribute to the guy who tried but failed to bring collective bargaining to the squared circle.


  1. Bravo. Thank you to the many men and women who sacrificed so much to make our families' lives better. I didn't know that about Jesse Venture, even more reason to respect him. Thanks, JOe.

  2. I'm not sure how or from where you got the top photo in this series but I took it when I worked for the WWWF in the 80's photographing their shows at the Boston Garden. That's Tony Atlas Jesse is bearhugging. Jesse was always friendly, open and accessible, not characteristics generally associated with professional wrestling at the time.

    As some people know, I have a fairly massive collection of political ephemera. One of my favorite buttons is from Jesse's term as Governor which reads: "My Governor can kick your Governor's butt!"



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