The workers on the S.P. line for strike sent out a call
But Casey Jones the engineer he wouldn’t strike at all
His boiler it was leakin’ and the drivers on the bum
And the engines and the bearin’ they were all out o’ plum
Casey Jones, kept his junkpile runnin’
Casey Jones, was doin’ double-time
Casey Jones, got a wooden medal
For bein’ good and faithful on the S.P. line
Well the workers said to Casey “Won’t you help us win this strike”
But Casey said “Let me alone, you’d better take hike”
Well Casey’s wheezy engine ran right off the wheezy track
And Casey hit the river with an awful smack
Casey Jones, hit the river bottom
Casey Jones, broke his bloomin’ spine
Casey Jones, became an angelino
He took a trip to heaven on the S.P. line
— Joe Hill
Written by a union activist, Joe Hill, after a nationwide walkout of 40,000 railway employees in Illinois, USA in 1911. The word ‘scab’, meaning ‘strikebreaker’, was used in print for the first time on 5 July 1777. Strikebreakers are individuals who are hired by a company after or during a strike to keep the organization running. Strikebreakers may also refer to workers who break the strike and continue to work during a strike.
In June 2011, the Maruti Suzuki workers at the Manesar plant went on a 13 day strike demanding recognition of their union. In August the company declared a lockout and demanded workers sign a ‘good conduct bond’ if they wished to be reinstated. The union members stood out at the factory gate refusing to sign. Suzuki management tried to bring in ‘scabs’ to keep the factory running. The workers resisted and succeeded. But this is not a standalone case. The same happens across the country wherever there is a strong union and struggle on the ground.
With the changes in labour laws over the years, most manufacturing plants today have more irregular workers (casual, contract, trainees) than regular workers (permanent) on the shopfloor. This reduces the power of the unions as the irregular workers are insecure and hence fearful of joining unions and facing the wrath of management. These are then workers who act as strike breakers at a time of struggle. But, the flip side of this is that in most establishments permanent workers do not include the irregular workers in their unions as that would mean they would have to share the ‘cake’, in this case the benefits and the wage increases, with the irregular workers. Management is happy to keep a small number of regular workers satisfied at the cost of the large number of irregular workers. This keeps them antagonistic to each other, using one group as a scab against the other, and allows the company to make higher profits at the cost of all the workers, regular and irregular.