FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Scabs, Semantics, and Working People

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet.” –from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet

Over the years, the incendiary term “scab,” when used in the context of Labor-Management relations, has come to be carelessly and egregiously misapplied. Even people who should, by rights, be familiar with its definition, seem to be confused by it. Bless their hearts, while their sentiments and ideology are in the right place, their terminology is in error.

Consider: Saying that the vehemently anti-union Walmart Corporation hires only “scab labor,” or that outside contractors being used for piece-work in the manufacturing sector—the bane of unionized mechanics and electricians everywhere—are “scabs” is both inaccurate and misleading. The proper nomenclature for the aforementioned employees is simply “non-union workers.”

A scab is an entirely different creature. A scab is a person who crosses a union picket line and takes over the job of a striking union worker. Scabs come in two varieties, both of them insidious and foul. You have your unaffiliated scab—which is a non-union person who hires on as a “replacement” for striking workers—and you have your affiliated scab, which is a union member who willingly and traitorously crosses his own union’s picket line.

As for the term “replacement worker,” one cannot imagine a more misleading or potentially destructive job title. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously said, “Labor cannot, on any terms, surrender the right to strike,” and he couldn’t have been more accurate. For the working class, the right to strike is everything. It’s the sole “weapon” they have in their arsenal in the on-going, eternal conflict between Labor and Management.

Simply put, withholding one’s labor is the only leverage a working man has at his disposal. Shouting and pounding the table during contract negotiations can only get you so far. It’s the fear of going on strike that truly gets management’s attention. And of course, the notion of a strike’s potency being neutralized by the implementation of replacement workers has always been anathema to organized labor.

For those readers who happen to be fans of professional football, a prime example of an “unaffiliated scab” is Sean Payton, currently the head coach of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints. In 1987, the NFL’s Players’ Association (NFLPA) went on strike, seeking better pensions, free agency, severance, and safer artificial turf conditions.

The players put up picket lines in front of every stadium on the country. And even though the strike was legal, and these NFL players had a long list of items on their agenda, the gutless and greedy Sean Payton nonetheless crossed an authorized picket line in order to take a job that rightfully belonged to a striking player. In short, he became a scab.

There was time in our social history when the word “scab” really counted for something. Even when it was misapplied (as noted in the earlier examples), it resonated. It stung. It packed a wallop. Unfortunately, today, for a myriad of reasons, referring to someone as a “scab,” even when the designation is right on the mark, can result in a backlash. Not only do people not to want to “punish” a scab, they reserve their criticism for the person using the label.

True story. When I have properly referred to “scab labor” (replacement workers used during a strike), I’ve had people—good people, pro-union people—chastise me for using the word. I have been scolded for it. Somehow, weirdly, people have come to view the word “scab” as not only derogatory but politically incorrect, not unlike a racial slur or referring to women as “broads.”

I am not sure whether to laugh or cry at the apparent shift in public sentiment. How did this happen? We can now use the F-word almost as a form of punctuation, with people barely raising an eyebrow, yet we can’t call a union buster a “scab”?

All I know for sure is that for as long as the vile and opportunistic Sean Payton remains coach of the Saints, I shall do two things: Root for New Orleans to lose, and continue to refer to Payton as the scabrous motherfucker he is.

More articles by:

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

December 13, 2018
John Davis
What World Do We Seek?
Subhankar Banerjee
Biological Annihilation: a Planet in Loss Mode
Lawrence Davidson
What the Attack on Marc Lamont Hill Tells Us
James McEnteer
Breathless
Ramzy Baroud
The Real Face of Justin Trudeau: Are Palestinians Canada’s new Jews?
Dean Baker
Pelosi Would Sabotage the Progressive Agenda With a Pay-Go Rule
Elliot Sperber
Understanding the Yellow Vests Movement Through Basic Color Theory 
Rivera Sun
The End of the NRA? Business Magazines Tell Activists: The Strategy is Working
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Historic Opportunity to Transform Trade
December 12, 2018
Arshad Khan
War, Anniversaries and Lessons Never Learned
Paul Street
Blacking Out the Yellow Vests on Cable News: Corporate Media Doing its Job
Kenneth Surin
The Brexit Shambles Rambles On
David Schultz
Stacking the Deck Against Democracy in Wisconsin
Steve Early
The Housing Affordability Crisis and What Millennials Can do About It
George Ochenski
Collaboration Failure: Trump Trashes Sage Grouse Protections
Rob Seimetz
Bringing a Life Into a Dying World: A Letter From a Father to His Unborn Son
Michael Howard
PETA and the ‘S’-Word
John Kendall Hawkins
Good Panopt, Bad Panopt: Does It Make A Difference?
Kim C. Domenico
Redeeming Utopia: a Meditation On An Essay by Ursula LeGuin
Binoy Kampmark
Exhuming Franco: Spain’s Immemorial Divisions
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
Democratizing Money
Laura Finley
Congress Must Reauthorize VAWA
December 11, 2018
Eric Draitser
AFRICOM: A Neocolonial Occupation Force?
Sheldon Richman
War Over Ukraine?
Louis Proyect
Why World War II, Not the New Deal, Ended the Great Depression
Howard Lisnoff
Police Violence and Mass Policing in the U.S.
Mark Ashwill
A “Patriotic” Education Study Abroad Program in Viet Nam: God Bless America, Right or Wrong!
Laura Flanders
HUD Official to Move into Public Housing?
Nino Pagliccia
Resistance is Not Terrorism
Matthew Johnson
See No Evil, See No Good: The Truth Is Not Black and White
Maria Paez Victor
How Reuters Slandered Venezuela’s Social Benefits Card
December 10, 2018
Jacques R. Pauwels
Foreign Interventions in Revolutionary Russia
Richard Klin
The Disasters of War
Katie Fite
Rebranding Bundy
Gary Olson
A Few Thoughts on Politics and Personal Identity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit Britain’s Crisis of Self-Confidence Will Only End in Tears and Rising Nationalism
Andrew Moss
Undocumented Citizen
Dean Baker
Trump and China: Going With Patent Holders Against Workers
Lawrence Wittner
Reviving the Nuclear Disarmament Movement: a Practical Proposal
Dan Siegel
Thoughts on the 2018 Elections and Beyond
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: I Can Smell the Dumpster Fires Already
Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail