S is for SCAB

                                                                     A – Z

I’m proud to be a part of a wonderful organization called the Writers of Kern. They are having a “Blog Challenge” and I’m participating. I’m writing my normal two blogs per week but challenging myself to be prompted by the alphabet. Hope you can read all twenty six from A-Z. For more good reading check out the Writers of Kern’s Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/groups/95572300558/


S is for SCAB

What an ugly word. Even the mouth has to contort and stretch around these four letters. Leaving the “s” off makes it easy to say or call a cab…hardly have to move our lips. Add the “s” and it’s mouth gymnastics.

First I have to clear the air. I was a scab. Not proud of it. Ashamed I had to do it to protect my own job. Will explain later.

The word that the medical term means was coined as far back as the 13th century. It appeared in medical journals in the 14th century. As people got use to that word meaning an incrustation that forms over a sore or wound as it heals, it was easy to use the word in a demeaning way towards others. This started happening as far back as the 16th century in England. When the term, scab, was directed at others it meant a low life, “scurvy” person, a scoundrel who led a dirty lifestyle.
Homeless man

Laborers used the slang term “scab” as early as 1777, the first known writing. The writing stated, “the conflict would have not been so sharp had there not been so many dirty Scabs, no Doubt but timely Notice will be taken of them.”

From the early 1800s until now the term became specifically used for workers who crossed picket lines to take the place of striking workers.

In the mid-1960s I was on the management team of a steering gear manufacturing company in the Midwest. A new contract agreement with the local UAW could not be settled and they went on strike. Over 650 workers were giving up their weekly paychecks in order to reach a new contract giving them pay raises, better medical and retirement benefits and a realignment of some job classifications. The strike lasted for a few months.

With all the political talk today about the shrinking middle class, let me just say that there would be no middle class if there had been no unions.
Unions created the American middle class.

Back to the strike; we office employees and middle management people were expected to cross the picket lines every day and report on time to work. So we did. For a few days we shuffled papers and cleaned our desks.

After a week or so the President of the company called the factory management (not the front office people) together for a meeting. He told us they had emergency orders that needed to be filled. There was Caterpillar equipment, farm tractors, Army tanks and emergency vehicles with broken steering gears. These companies were depending on us to get them equipment. We were ordered to man the welders, tube presses, housing machines and assembly lines to get these components shipped out.

It didn’t take long for word to leak out that the management people were doing the union jobs inside while the union workers walked the picket lines, many wondering if they could put food on the table.

Every day we drove into the lot, shouts of “SCAB!” ringed through my ears. Good men who worked for me in my department beat on my car doors and begged me not to illegally do their jobs. I knew as I protected my own job by following my boss’s orders I was undermining my friends and fellow worker’s job. I felt like a traitor, a loser, a scab. Because I was.
scab crossing picket lines

I had no solution. I had two kids in diapers, a mortgage and a car payment and orders to report to work and do what I was told.
father and baby

Those many weeks scabbing left a bitter taste in my mouth. I hated that company after that. Within another year I quit and moved on, but never forgot that lesson.

Since the beginning of time the majority of workers have been exploited by the majority of companies. The few great companies, like Costco and others, have always treated their employees fairly. Most have not and will not. Most companies are like the Walmarts of the world. Billions of dollars of profits going to the few at the top and the workers not making a living wage.

Now, because our world has shrunk and we are in a global community, unions and other worker groups are worthless. If a company senses their extreme profits might be compromised by sharing some of their wealth with their employees, they will move their companies to a country with lower wages and no obligation to pay benefits.

It’s the world we live in and all the tariff-causing-trade wars will not change things. Low wage workers have to be ready to adjust their lives through higher education and training. In our present system this is not possible because our education system costs are out of control and not affordable.
Our government sponsored training programs are inadequate and poorly run.

This will change. This is changing. I have great optimism for my grandchildren’s lives. They are the change.

Thinking back to my many weeks as a scab, I remember reading the great author, Jack London. I had just discovered his novel, Call of the Wild, and I thought it was on par with Huckleberry Finn as the two greatest novels I had read up to that point in my life (in my early twenties). I searched for more writing of Jack London and was amazed when I found a piece entitled, “The Scab.”

After reading his feelings about a “scab” I even felt worse. Here are his words and I quote:

“After God finished the rattlesnake, the toad, the vampire, He had some awful substance left with which He made a scab … When a scab comes down the street, men turn their backs and angels weep in heaven, and the Devil shuts the gates of Hell to keep him out. No man has a right to scab so long as there is a pool of water to drown his carcass in, or a rope long enough to hang his body with.”

About bakoheat

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6 Responses to S is for SCAB

  1. joanraymondwriting says:

    David worked for Vons during the strike of 2003/04. It lasted six months. It was rough. He chose to picket, while some crossed the lines to feed their families. Friendships were ruined, people didn’t trust each other, and the workplace was never the same after it ended.

    • bakoheat says:

      My father was a general foreman in a UAW factory for thirty five years. He had his run-ins with union stewards, union officers, picket lines and having to cross the lines. He believed in unions and their rights. He told me always knew when the union got a new contract with pay upgrades his salary would go up. He said the unions were always his best friends.

  2. heyannis says:

    I’ve been faced with this issue twice. Once, in Michigan, I chose to call in sick rather than cross the picket line or to join them. I’d seen what happened to my brother when he reported to work for Greyhound when their bus drivers went on strike. In Bakersfield, a few years later, I walked the line with fellow teachers. I remember that for 15 years later, whenever a picket line crosser’s name was mentioned, there also came the words, “He was a scab.”

    Good post, Dan. xoA

    • bakoheat says:

      Those days are almost over. Most states are “right to work” states and the corporations have most of the rights. It’s been a one hundred year teeter-totter, never a smooth balance like Japan. The corporations win for thirty years, then the unions even it out. Then the unions are top=heavy and go overboard, the see-saw changes and the corporations go back on top. That may not happen again. We are no in a plutocracy and the courts have now sided with the corps.

  3. khotisarque says:

    Yeah, there are often two or more sides to issues. In the 1970s I was working in Britain while industrial warfare was in progress. Management attitudes varied from antiquated to Neanderthal. Unions were typically bloody-minded. Three incidents spring to mind. In one, three months work was undone when a union member pulled the main power from an aircraft [because it was tea-break time a minute ago] before equipment could be powered down; much smoke. In another, a management moron provoked a strike in one hangar that lasted several weeks and closed it; but I sat down with the shop steward of the next hangar [mine] and we negotiated a deal that let the strikers work off my backlog of work – they needed the money, I needed the work done, both of us tight-lipped and happy. The third incident was a grade-school teachers strike – ever tried driving through a rock-throwing picket line with an eight-year old to get to school? Strong unions, responsible employers and impartial courts are the best possible conditions, but I’ve never seen all three together.

    Great post.

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