Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

Crossing a picket line = Treason!

David Macaray is no lunatic screaming on the street corner. He’s a former nine-term president of the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers Local 672. He’s a labor commentator with a published a collection of essays to his credit. He’s also not a big fan of “scabs,” as he defines them:

While you occasionally hear the word misused or applied generically (e.g., calling a non-union facility a “scab shop”), there are two accepted definitions of the term:  (1) a union employee who continues to work during a strike, and (2) a person who accepts a job at a union facility that is being struck.

What’s wrong with a union employee dissenting from a strike and going to work? Quite a bit, according to an essay that Macaray wrote:

In time of war, a pacifist who’d rather empty bedpans and change soiled sheets is called a “conscientious objector.”  In time of war, a person who betrays his own country by taking up arms for the enemy is called a “traitor.”  And an employee who refuses to join his fellow union members in a legally mandated strike, or a person who crosses a picket line in order to steal someone else’s job is, appropriately, called a “scab.”

Unlike Europe, Mexico and Canada, where scabs are more or less outlawed, the United States actually encourages this form of economic treason. We openly flout the words of Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, who said, “Labor cannot, on any terms, surrender the right to strike.”  And make no mistake about what Brandeis was saying.  When your job can be given away while you’re on strike, striking becomes tantamount to quitting. …

People who try to steal your belongings from your home after you’ve been forced to evacuate are the lowest form of creature—scavengers looking to make a quick profit from your misfortune.  We call them called “looters,” and looting is against the law.  It’s fair to say that the bulk of the civilized world considers scabs to be “job looters.”

Yikes! Usually organized labor reserves those harsh terms for businesses. (Richard Trumka accused corporations that weren’t hiring of “economic treason” last year.) But apparently workers who dare to think differently from the greater union are traitors too — and also scavengers and looters.

Categories: Center for Union Facts