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Labour Talk • Jack London's "The Scab"
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Jack London's "The Scab"

Posted: Sat Sep 23, 2006 5:30 pm
by NC
This is my treatise on the quote here so often held out by unions as the work of a great socialist playwright, Jack London.
After God had finished the rattlesnake, the toad, and the vampire, he had some awful substance left which he made a scab. A scab is a two-legged animal with a corkscrew soul, a water-logged brain, and a combination backbone made of jelly and glue. Where others have hearts, he carries a tumor 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. No man has a right to scab as long as there is a pool of water deep enough to drown his body in, or a rope long enough to hang his carcass with. Judas Iscariot was a gentleman compared with a scab for betraying his Master, he had character enough to hang himself. A scab hasn't!!
Esau sold his birthright for a mess of pottage. Judas Iscariot sold his savior for thirty pieces of silver. Benedict Arnold his Country for a promise of a commission in the British army. The modern strikebreaker sells his birthright, his Country, his wife, his children, and his fellowmen for an unfulfilled promise from his employer, trust or corporation.

Esau was a traitor to himself, Judas Iscariot was a traitor to his God, Benedict Arnold was a traitor to his Country.

A strikebreaker is a traitor to his God, his Country, his family, and his class!!
One website I found this on even went so far as to have an image of London's signature at the bottom.

Jack London did not say this, he didn't even mean this. London's actual speech, given in April 1903 explains that a "scab" is: is one who gives more value for the same price than another.
The laborer 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-laborers, 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. He does not scab because he wants to scab. No whim of the spirit, no burgeoning of the heart, leads him to give more of his labor power than they for a certain sum.
The "less generous worker" feels threatened and forced to match the generousness of the scab for it is the fault of the scab that: "his wife, and his children will not have so good a roof over their head"
To hold his place, (which is to live), he [the non scab] must offset this offer by another equally liberal, which is equivalent to giving away somewhat from the food and shelter he enjoys. To sell his day's work for $2, instead of $2.50, means that he, his wife, and his children will not have so good a roof over their heads, so warm clothes on their backs, so substantial food in their stomachs. Meat will be bought less frequently and it will be tougher and less nutritious, stout new shoes will go less often on the children's feet, and disease and death will be more imminent in a cheaper house and neighborhood.
For this reason says London, does the less generous worker justify his attack on the scab:
Behind every brick thrown by a striker is the selfish will "to live" of himself, and the slightly altruistic will "to live" of his family. The family group came into the world before the State group, and society, being still on the primitive basis of tooth and nail, the will "to live" of the State is not so compelling to the striker as is the will "to live" of his family and himself.
In addition to the use of bricks, clubs, and bullets, the selfish laborer finds it necessary to express his feelings in speech. Just as the peaceful country-dweller calls the sea-rover a "pirate," and the stout burgher calls the man who breaks into his strong-box a "robber," so the selfish laborer applies the opprobrious epithet "scab" to the laborer who takes from him food and shelter by being more generous in the disposal of his labor power.

The sentimental connotation of "scab" is as terrific as that of "traitor" or "Judas," and a sentimental definition would be as deep and varied as the human heart. It is far easier to arrive at what may be called a technical definition, worded in commercial terms, as, for instance, that a scab is one who gives more value for the same price than another.
What the business unions believe and London goes on to support, is the idea that the ambitiousness of the players is the cause.
Nobody desires to scab, to give most for least. The ambition of every individual is quite the opposite, to give least for most; and, as a result, living in a tooth-and-nail society, battle royal is waged by the ambitious individuals. But in its most salient aspect, that of the struggle over the division of the joint product, it is no longer a battle between individuals, but between groups of individuals. Capital and labor apply themselves to raw material, make something useful out of it, add to its value, and then proceed to quarrel over the division of the added value. Neither cares to give most for least. Each is intent on giving less than the other and on receiving more.
So, Jack London, in his speech "The Scab" is actually saying that the scab is ambitious and willing to work for less and give more. This piece of writing that the unions have so bastardized and twisted, then claimed as their own contains a statement that, in my judgment outlines why union in the 21st century are failed models.
But the scab takes the place of the striker, who begins at once to wield a most powerful weapon, terrorism.
I think I will stop here and pick it up later.

Posted: Thu Oct 05, 2006 1:39 pm
by green1
only just noticed the blogs... but very interesting work...

what confuses me... is that given the description that london uses in this piece (whereby he states that the scab is generous and the non-scab is selfish) he still seems to think that a scab is "bad" and that the selfish worker is "good"

he says that a selfish worker is doing good for himself and his familly, whereas a scab is doing good for society at large, and yet he seems to be against "scabs"

he states that nobody wants to give more for less, and that nobody willfully is generous... imagine a world with no volunteers, where a friend only helps you out if you pay them, where nobody does anything without "compensation"... it's not a place I want to live...

oh well... good to see that contradictory statments from union types is nothing new... :roll:

Posted: Thu Oct 05, 2006 2:00 pm
by NC
Yeah, I read it in full for the first time when I posted this and I too see the dichotomy, he almost seems to have no judgement of the issue, save as a statement that scabs are going to happen.

This was, to my understanding, a speech relating to the USA in the global economy on the early 20th century.

Re: Jack London's "The Scab"

Posted: Mon Dec 09, 2013 8:56 am
by NC
Bringing back an oldie for the folks over at Red Cross Care Partners - looks like a strike is looming. Here comes the "scabs" and the "picknikers".