Sunday, July 8, 2018

When Is A Scab Not A Scab?

When (s)he is a 'replacement worker'.

I have always loved the word 'scab'. A fitting description of strikebreakers, it is a word that conjures up ugly imagery, imagery quite appropriate for those who act without integrity by engaging in strikebreaking behaviour, which are essentially shameless public declarations of individual extollment of the self over the collective good. There can be few lower forms of human than scabs.

During his time as Ontario Premier, Bob Rae passed legislation that banned these scourges, legislation that was repealed when Mike Harris, devoid of any semblance of integrity, became the next premier. Tellingly, subsequent Liberal governments were quite happy to continue his neoliberal labour view. Scabs therefore are alive and well in Ontario.

And yet, despite the fact that we live in a time when collective-bargaining rights are under regular assault by scabs and their enablers, the word itself seems to have disappeared from our lexicon. The euphemism, replacement workers, is an anodyne that attempts to conceal the ugliness of the act of strikebreaking. One is reminded of Orwell's observations about the insidious use of euphemisms:
Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements.
Tamper with the language and you tamper with the reality.

Take a look at the following article, about an ongoing strike at a Goderich salt mine.
A rural community is rallying around salt mine workers who have been embroiled in a strike since April, a disagreement that has involved wooden pallet barricades, demonstrations and busloads of replacement workers.

The workers at the Goderich mine have been off the job since April 27.

Unifor Local 16-O represents the workers, and alleges Compass Minerals has been flying in replacement workers from New Brunswick to break the strike while demanding concessions that include mandatory overtime, reduced benefits and a weakening of contracting-out provisions.

In a letter to the community on June 28, Compass Minerals said it has used contractors to produce salt to fill long-term orders, and had little choice to do so in a competitive market.

The strike ramped up when workers blockaded an access road to the mining site this past week to express their frustration over the use of replacement workers. Photos posted on Unifor Canada’s Twitter showed wooden pallets stacked high in a barricade on the road. Videos also showed Unifor national president Jerry Dias walking out the replacement workers from the mine as onlookers chanted “Don’t come back!”

Representatives from local Unifor unions across the country have rallied at the picket line with the Goderich workers and flooded social media with solidarity. Lana Payne, Unifor Atlantic Regional Director, shared an open letter on Twitter that had been written to Laura Araneda, CEO of Vic Drilling, the company Payne says has been allegedly flying the replacement workers from New Brunswick to the Goderich mine.

“By crossing the strike line and doing the work of striking miners, Laura Araneda’s replacement workers are undermining the bargaining power of fellow miners,” she wrote. “The fact is, there is always somebody willing to do your job for a lower wage in more dangerous conditions.
Now do a quick reread, this time replacing the term replacement workers with scabs.

You can see how language choices have a great impact on how we perceive things.

Perhaps the ugly reality about scabs is best reflected by Unifor national president Jerry Dias:
“Crossing a picket line is shameful behaviour that cannot be tolerated,” ... no job is worth stealing food from another worker’s family.”
I close with a video that should leave anyone who has ever crossed a picket line feeling deep, deep shame.


  1. These are difficult times for labour, Lorne -- because so many people agree with Maggie Thatcher's assessment that "there is no such thing as community."

    1. For some, community becomes important only when they are in need, Owen. I suspect many are gaining a newfound appreciation for it.