Union Jack: Scab shenanigans

October 4, 2012

Last Monday’s “Fail Mary” will forever be inscribed into NFL lore, with the contradicting hand motions of the replacement referees—one signaling interception, the other incorrectly signaling touchdown—encapsulating the utter incompetence and confusion that has overshadowed the opening weeks of the 2012 season.

The scabs’ shenanigans, which single-handedly gifted the game to the Seattle Seahawks, resulted in millions of households across the country cursing greedy NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for refusing to simply give the league’s unionized referees a fair contract. Even the rabidly anti-labor Gov. Scott Walker joined in on the calls to “#returntherealrefs.”  All in all, the episode gave us a crash course on why the lockout is unjust and dangerous.

It’s important to stress that the lockout—a fairly common practice of American business, not be confused with the strike—is inseparable from the decades-long war on workers. Lockouts reflect the confidence of employers to extract heavy concessions and ignore the demands made by unions, whereas strikes often signify the opposite. And as Salon’s Josh Eidelson noted in a recent article, lockouts have risen dramatically since the 1990s, with the lockout-to-strike ratio hitting an all-time high last year.

Lockouts are a tool of business to exploit workers and squeeze out as much profit as possible. But their consequences are felt by more than the locked-out workers themselves, since lockouts perpetuate wage repression. While an employer that locks out its unionized workers may provide some jobs to some needy workers, this kind of practice serves to drive down wages for everyone in the long run. What’s more, as we learned on Monday, lockouts are dangerous.

In certain industries, scab labor can be extraordinarily dangerous—like say, at a nuclear power plant. But that’s just what the energy company Entergy resorted to at one of its plants in Massachusetts this summer when it brought in hundreds of replacement workers.

As the Nuclear Regulatory Commission sat on the sidelines and allowed the plant to operate, one of those replacement workers actually conceded to a journalist at the time that, “if there was a catastrophe on a scale like Fukushima, management would not handle it the way they should.” There’s also the case of Con Ed, which during a massive heat wave in New York City this summer, decided to lock out 8,000 of its workers rather than soften up its demands for the union to agree to heavy concessions on health care and pensions.

While these labor struggles may not be as high-profile as the NFL lockout, the same dynamics are at play. Lockouts are dangerous and unjust, a stark reminder of the levels of confidence and power that run through the veins of of corporate America today. And while the high-profile nature of the NFL lockout may have resulted in a little bit of justice for the referees, the same cannot be said for the thousands of other currently locked-out workers across the country like the 1,300 grain workers at American Crystal Sugar or the 1,000 workers at Cooper Tire in Ohio. These stories are easy to ignore, but we’re all worse off because of them.

Pick Cole’s scabs at


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