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Labor Lectures: Does the Rat Have a Name?

Daniel Hinton's picture
Apr 09, 2015

Of course it does. Around here we like to call it "The Boss."

Still unsure of what we're talking about? Ever see an enormous, inflatable rat outside of a workplace or on a street corner? Believe it or not, that big, ugly thing has a history and a purpose.

The Rat, as its simply called most often, symbolizes anti-union bosses and their nasty, seedy corporate greed. It also stands for non-union scab workers and, as such, is sometimes nicknamed "Scabby the Rat" — complete with its own Twitter feed.

Conceived in the minds of two union organizers based in Illinois, Scabby the Rat "came to life" in 1990. Ken Lambert and Don Newton from District Council 1 of the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers wanted a shocking, attention-grabbing signal for worker actions against anti/non-union businesses. Big Sky Balloons and Searchlights, Inc. in Plainfield, Illinois, answered their call and created what has become an infamous symbol beloved within the labor movement.

Despite the addition of other grotesque symbols for bosses and scabs — "Fat Cat" and "Greedy Pig," to name a couple — Scabby the Rat remains the most popular and widely used.

It has become so popular and symbolic within the labor movement that bosses have attacked it in the courts. In 2011, however, the NLRB ruled that Scabby the Rat is constitutionally protected symbolic speech.

Long live the Rat. And when you see one, honk your horn and raise your fist in support to show the men and women alongside the inflatable symbol that you got their message.

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