Dissecting Scabs

November 27, 2019

Dissecting Scabs

It is a word that is politically and emotionally charged, and considered so vile and controversial, that it causes shame and anger. “Scab” used to be thrown into conversation like a bomb. While its power has diminished since its origins, the word scab garners attention to this day.

In Household Words, Stephanie Smith draws a clear line from the one definition of scab to the other: “From blemish … to strike-breaker, the history of the word scab … shows a displacement of meaning from the visceral or physical to the moral register … Just as a scab is a physical lesion, the strikebreaking scab disfigures the social body of labor—both the solidarity of workers and the dignity of work.”

With the trailers rolled in and set up east of Section V, a stone’s throw from millions of barrels of explosive hydrocarbons, the word “scab” is getting thrown around more and more.

So, are all replacement workers “scabs”? The answer is complex, but in short, the answer is no, they are not. The answer is complicated because replacement workers cross picket lines for a variety of reasons and only one of those reasons meets the “scab” definition.  Saskatoon’s BCP is stretched so incredibly thin that they are relying on a patch work of lesser skilled and often inexperienced people to act as “band-aids” to keep the Refinery ‘operational’ during potential job action. A combination of reluctant supervisors scared of termination, eager brown-nosers, disingenuous retirees who choose to turn their backs on their former brothers and sisters, unwitting contract workers, and professional heartless mercenaries that roam from work-site to work-site taking food off the table of skilled, unionized workers. It’s a lean option BCP has chosen to run our refinery and one with extreme risk.

The Company has been running an unseen-in-the-industry ratio of 1 manager to every 2 in-scope workers for the last four to five years, and solely for BCP purposes. It hasn’t made the refinery any more efficient or safe, it’s a pure power move to prepare for locking out the actual highly skilled and experienced workers that keep the plant safe every day. While most managers have no interest in abandoning their families and living in a shoddy trailer for months on end, they are forced to out of fear of losing their jobs or being ostracized to a dusty basement like Milton in Office Space.  There are rumblings of lawsuits, medical exemptions, human rights violations, and even unionization to avoid being a pawn in Saskatoon’s little games. These are not scabs, they are at best Unwilling Slaves.

On the flip side of that coin, there are some managers who can’t wait to cross the picket lines and will happily assist the Company as they race to the bottom in pension and benefits. They are excited to live on-site and have been heard bragging to others in the hallways and hockey locker rooms about how much money they are going make. Although, those promises didn’t bear fruit last time, and in fact, their overall compensation package decreased since the last round of bargaining. These are not scabs who have a choice to cross or not, they are Kool-Aid Junkies.

Then you have the contract workers and the professionals. Hired for one purpose, and one purpose only, to do the work of the unionized employees fighting for the benefits and pay that drive the local economy and raise the standards for all workers. Make no mistake, these are scabs. They will say they are just doing a job, nothing personal, but how does a citizen lack basic ethics that they can walk past a group of brave workers, cross a picket line and still sleep at night? These are not people to be admired. Their actions are shameful. These are Scabs.

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, it does. The disingenuous retirees. They are former in-scope or out of scope employees of the Co-op that are choosing to “un-retire” while continuing to collect their hard-earned DB pension plan, savings plans and other hard-fought benefits. In doing this, they are turning their backs on former brothers and sisters to help a Company that has reneged on promises and attempting to rip money from the pockets of its highly-skilled unionized workers. One can’t even imagine the twisted thought processes that must go on to justify these immoral, unethical acts to oneself.  While they are hypocrites, they are best known as Super Scabs.

When you think about it, how will the Super Scabs mingle and work alongside the Unwilling Slaves who were forced into a weaker pension plan and had their retirement plans devastatingly altered? That could make for some tense interactions. So scab or strike-breaker or replacement worker, call them what you want and feel how you wish. The truth is that Saskatoon is calling the shots. It was their directives that brought in the camp, that rejected the union’s reasonable offers, are refusing to negotiate and put us all in this position.

It is disrespectful to bring in scabs and also to force someone to act as a scab. We are refinery workers, and we deserve respect. We all know that there is more than enough profits to respect refinery workers. 

In Solidarity,

Unifor 594 Bargaining Committee


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