‘Union Scabs’ by Oscar Ameringer from Industrial Union Bulletin. Vol. 2 No. 3. March 14, 1908.

A young Oscar Ameringer.

A classic missive from Oklahoma Socialist Party leader Oscar Ameringer, often republished since, sometimes without attribution.

‘Union Scabs’ by Oscar Ameringer from Industrial Union Bulletin. Vol. 2 No. 3. March 14, 1908.

There are three kinds of scabs: the professional, the amateur and the union scab.

The professional scab is usually a high-paid, high-skilled worker in the employ of strikebreaking and detective agencies. His position is that of a petty officer’s in the regular scab army.

The amateur scab brigade is composed of bums, riff-raff, slum dwellers, rubes, tramps, imbeciles, college students and other undesirable citizens.

The last, and by far the most important class is the union scab.

Professional scabs are few and efficient. Amateur scabs are plentiful and deficient, and union scabs both numerous and capable.

The professional scab knows what he is doing, does it well and for the sake of the long green only.

Caroline Lowe, Ameringer, Debs, and Walter Thomas Mills at the Oklahoma Socialist encampment, 1909.

The amateur scab, posing as a free born American citizen, who scorns to be fettered by union rules and regulations, gets much glory (?), little pay and when the strike is over he is given an honorable discharge in the region where Darwin searched for the missing link.

The union scab receives less pay than the professional scab, works better than the amateur scab and don’t know that he is a scab.

He will take a pattern from a scab pattern-maker, cast it in a union mold, hand the casting to as lousy a scab as ever walked in shoe leather, and then proudly produce a paid-up union card in testimony of his unionism. Way down in his heart he seems to have a lurking suspicion that there is something not altogether right in his action, and it is characteristic of the union man who cooperates with scabs that he is ever ready to flash a union card in the face of innocent bystanders.

He don’t know that the rose under any other name is just as fragrant; he don’t know that calling a cat a canary won’t make the feline warble, and he don’t know that helping to run the shop while other workers bend all their energies in the opposite direction is scabbing. He relies on the name and seeks refuge behind a little pasteboard card.

Ameringer later in life.

When a strike is declared it becomes the chief duty of the organization to effect a complete shutdown of the plant. For that purpose warnings are mailed, or wired, to other places, to prevent working men from moving to the afflicted city.

Pickets are stationed around the plant or factory, or harbor, to stop workers from taking the places of the strikers. Amateur scabs are coaxed, persuaded, or bullied away from the seat of the strike. Persuasion having no effect on the professional strikebreaker, he is sometimes treated with a brickbat shower. Shut down that plant, shut it down completely, is the watchword of the striker.

Now while all these things are going on and men are stopped in ones and twos, a steady stream of dinner pail parades pours through the factory gate. Why are they not molested? Oh, they’re union men, belonging to a different craft than the one on strike. Instead of brickbats and insults it’s “Hello, John; hello, Jim; howdy, Jack,” and other expressions of goodfellowship.

You see, this is a carriage factory, and it’s only the Amalgamated Association of Brimstone and Emery Polishers that are striking, the Brotherhood of Oil Rag Wipers, the Fraternal Society of White Lead Daubers, the Undivided Sons of Varnish Spreaders, the Benevolent Compilation of Wood Work Gluers, the Iron Benders’ Sick and Death Benefit Union, the Oakdale Lodge of Coal Shovelers, the Martha Washington Lodge of Ash Wheelers, the Amalgamated Brotherhood of Oilers, the Engineers’ Protective Lodge, the Stationary Firemen, the Portable Firemen, the F.O.O.L., the A.S.S.E.S. Societies have nothing to do with the Amalgamated Association of Brimstone and Emery Polishers.

At the next regular meeting of those societies, ringing resolutions endorsing the strike of the Amalgamated Association of Brimstone and Emery Polishers will be passed. Moral support is pledged and five dollars’ worth of tickets are purchased for the dance given by the Ladies’ Volunteer and Auxiliary Chore for the Benefit of the Amalgamated Association of Brimstone and Emery Polishers.

The whole thing is like beating a man’s brains out and then handing him a headache tablet.

Ameringer family, and band, at the Oklahoma Socialist encampment, 1909.

During a very bitterly fought molders’ strike in a northern city the writer noticed one of the prettiest illustrations of the workings of plain scabbing and union scabbing.

A dense mass of strikers and sympathizers had assembled in from of the factory awaiting the exit of the strikebreakers. Out they came, scabs and unionists in one dark mass. Stones, rotten eggs and other missiles began to fly, when one of the strikebreakers leaped on a store box and shouted frantically:

“Stop it, stop it, for C—–‘s sake, stop it; you are hitting more unionists than scabs; you can’t tell the difference.”

Ameringer, c. 1915.

That’s it. Wherever scabs and union men work harmoniously in the strikebreaking industry all hell can’t tell the difference.

To the murky conception of a union scab, scabbing is only wrong when practiced by a non-union man. To him the union card is a kind of scab permit that guarantees him immunity from insults, brickbats and rotten eggs. After having instructed a green bunch of amateur scabs in the art of brimstone and emery polishing all day, he meets a striking brother in the evening and forthwith demonstrates his unionism by setting up the drinks for the latter.

Union scabbing is the legitimate offspring of craft organization. It is begotten by ignorance, born of imbecility and nourished by infamy.

My dear brother, I am sorry to be under contract to hang you, but I know it will please you to hear that the scaffold is built by union carpenters, the rope bears the label, and here is my card.

This is union scabbing.

The Industrial Union Bulletin, and the Industrial Worker were newspapers published by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) from 1907 until 1913. First printed in Joliet, Illinois, IUB incorporated The Voice of Labor, the newspaper of the American Labor Union which had joined the IWW, and another IWW affiliate, International Metal Worker.The Trautmann-DeLeon faction issued its weekly from March 1907. Soon after, De Leon would be expelled and Trautmann would continue IUB until March 1909. It was edited by A. S. Edwards. 1909, production moved to Spokane, Washington and became The Industrial Worker, “the voice of revolutionary industrial unionism.”

PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/industrialworker/iub/v2n03-mar-14-1908-iub.pdf

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