John London, Scabs and Strikes

“After God had finished the rattlesnake, the toad, and the vampire, he had some awful substance left with which he made a scab.

A scab is a two-legged animal with a corkscrew soul, a water brain, a combination backbone of jelly and glue. Where others have hearts, he carries a tumour of rotten principles. 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….”

-John London, American author and social activist

Industrial relations is about how three entities  – labour unions, management and government (judiciary) interact with each other, aim is to maintain industrial peace and improve productivity.

Prime Minister Modi is encouraging manufacturing companies to make India their manufacturing hub (Make in India), increase in manufacturing will impact the dynamics of relations between these three entities.

Unions react to management’s perceived mistreatment by strike (while management’s counter weapon is lockout), boycott and picketing.


In case of strike, the management uses a powerful weapon to break the strikes – scabs.

A scab is a person who works despite an on-going strike. Scabs are not employed by the company prior to the trade union dispute, but rather hired after or during the strike to keep the organization running. Workers (union members or not) who cross picket lines to work are also called scabs.

scab 2

John London was an American author who wrote famous novels like Sea Wolf, The Call of Wild, White Fang etc. He was also a socialist and supporter of worker’s rights.

He felt that scabs biggest obstacle in progress of workers. They reduced the bargaining power of workers. He compared scabs to vampires and rattlesnakes. Though in his later writings he took more balanced view of scabs.

“The labourer who gives more time or strength or skill for the same wage than another, or equal time or strength or skill for a less wage, is a scab. The generousness on his part is hurtful to his fellow-labourers, for it compels them to an equal generousness which is not to their liking, and which gives them less of food and shelter. But a word may be said for the scab. Just as his act makes his rivals compulsorily generous, so do they, by fortune of birth and training, make compulsory his act of generousness.”

-John London, American author and social activist

scabs 1

The scabs were earlier called as black legs. There is an English folk song- Blackleg Miner- written in 19th century which ends with warning, asking blackleg to join union.

So join the union while you may.

 Don’t wait till your dying day,

 For that may not be far away,

 You dirty blackleg miner!



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