Scab herding: corporate organized crime


Most of us are taught at an early age that stealing is wrong. In a society of haves and have-nots, stealing can become a class issue. If you rob with a gun you are hunted down and likely jailed for quite a while. If you rob with a fountain pen you might well end up in high finance or political office.

But one of the worst kinds of theft is stealing a person's job. You not only rob a person of their income, their sense of wellbeing, and their dignity, you also rob their family and children.

Yes, companies do it all the time, especially in a bad economy. And no, it's nothing personal; its just business, like the contract killer said in The Godfather. But firing or laying people off is not the only way that some companies steal jobs. Sometimes they lock people out and then bring in what they call "replacement workers" and we call scabs. Other times they bring in scabs to break strikes.

Jack London really did not like scabs. London's famous definition of a scab begins, "After God had finished the rattlesnake, the toad, the vampire, He had some awful substance left with which He made a scab."

Two lockouts recently have brought the issue of scabs to the fore. When Honeywell locked out 250 workers for over a year at its Metropolis, Ill., nuclear fuel processing plant, the company brought in scabs, mostly from Louisiana. And American Crystal Sugar, in North Dakota and Minnesota, right now has 1,300 workers locked out for the second month. Again the scabs are mostly from the South.

In both cases, Honeywell and American Sugar contracted with companies who specialize in union busting and that "awful stuff" to find scabs. In the case of American Sugar, the scab herding company is Strom Engineering.

Now I have zero tolerance for those who will cross a picketline to steal another person's job. These are desperate times for many, but scabbing is no answer. It spreads misery and suffering and it helps the companies drive down conditions for all workers. It just validates robber baron Jay Gould's oft quoted remark, "I can hire half the working class to kill the other half."

But I reserve my hatred for the companies that scab herd, and the companies that hire them. This is corporate organized crime of a particularly ugly and despicable sort.

Which brings us back to the class nature of robbery. The scab is only a petty thief, a willing, ass-kissing tool of the company. Those that herd scabs and buy scabs conspire to commit theft on a grand scale. They conspire viciously and with malice. These racketeers use scabs to try and crush the rights of workers, to cheapen labor and dictate conditions. They are by far the worst criminals.

Furthermore, why are the scabs being trucked in from the South? Things are bad all over. But wages and benefits are lower there. Most southern states have anti-union "right to work" laws. Unions are weaker in the South. And despite the heroic struggles and gains of the Civil Rights movement, big business and the far right have managed to keep the South a low-wage preserve for many workers, black, brown and white.

It's all part of the organized crime strategy of big business that continues to use racism and regional prejudices to try to divide and weaken labor. It's all part of a criminal conspiracy to force a race to the bottom for all workers.

The Honeywell workers held out and preserved their union and made some gains even in the face of scab herding. I've no doubt the American Sugar workers can win also. But both experiences show the need for political action to protect labor rights. Unions need the democratic protection of their right to strike and to resist lockouts.

Any full recovery in this economic crisis has to protect the right of workers to challenge corporate efforts to balance their books on the backs of workers. It is time once again to fight for legislation banning the use of scabs in labor disputes. All right, call it a bill to ban striker replacement if you must. No matter what you call it, the democratic rights of labor need to be guaranteed for the protection of all workers.

Photo: Minnesota AFL-CIO // CC 2.0

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  • Isnt a scab a union worker who crosses the pick line to go back to work for the union company as a replacement or temporary worker themselves?

    Posted by blair hazelton, 12/16/2012 9:26pm (3 years ago)

  • You play the North-South economy card? Perhaps it's the unions that have made the North too expensive to live in! Look at what's happening in Greece and Spain. Business is not the enemy!

    Posted by Ron, 10/12/2012 9:16am (3 years ago)

  • your article is bs, we are not scabbing

    Posted by im a scab, 05/29/2012 5:49am (4 years ago)

  • The need for unions in America has come and gone. The need for jobs will always be here. If some one will walk away from their job because they are unwilling to pay for 13% of their health insurance, obviously they don't need it that badly. How many pro union readers have ever tried to run a company. To do everything you can to take care of your employees, pay ridiculous prices for perks and benefits to keep them happy while at the same time you watch supplies wasted and stolen, time stolen in various ways, and for all your work and worry, you get held for ransom with the the threat of a strike. I say don't bite the hand that feeds you, and I can't imagine risking my job in this economy while I watched my union officials play a game of Russian roulette with my livelihood at stake.

    Posted by Trevor Brashier, 04/29/2012 1:10am (4 years ago)

  • Terrific article! It's refreshing to see anti-worker, free-market ideology called what it is: not a valid political opinion, not a strategy for shared prosperity, but a vast and highly organized racket that robs the working class to line the already overflowing pockets of the rich. I hope we'll soon see the day when the average American reacts to union busting with the same shock and horror that now greet defenders of war crimes, apartheid, or similarly vicious practices.

    In response to Merit's comment about replacing seniority with a 'merit-based' system of compensation, I'd say that seniority is merit-based: it means experience, dedication, pride in one's job and one's union. When employers talk about 'merit-based' pay, what they generally mean is rewarding the workers who act against their own interests and in favor of the company's. Working an extra half-hour without overtime, accepting last-minute scheduling changes, not complaining about speed-ups, not rocking the boat, caring more about the bottom line than about worker safety, finking on other workers--these are the sorts of anti-worker, anti-solidarity behaviors that companies reward as merit. The situation is especially grim in public education, where the idea of merit-based pay for teachers is a ragged veil covering the old, ugly face of a crusade against the teachers' unions. Seniority is the only fair way to reward workers for their work, rather than for their complicity with the exploiting class.

    Posted by Scott Hiley, 09/09/2011 10:33am (4 years ago)

  • If the pro-union people could just understand a simple concept, almost all people would agree with being a part of a union. We all agree that almost every corporation will take money away from the worker to boost dividends for investors or give the money to the top executives. But, why most of us dislike unions is because it is not a merit based system, they protect workers that should be fired, and they are corrupt. Unions are now looked at as a place for the corrupt bully, or the challenged to hide because they can’t get or retain a job somewhere else based on the person's abilities or merit. If they would switch from a seniority based system to a merit based system I am sure more employers and employees would buy into the idea.

    Posted by Merit, 09/09/2011 12:49am (4 years ago)

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