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A Goblin that Lives Among Us

Out of all the monsters we celebrate on Halloween, the Scab is one that is not made up

Brian Young's picture
Oct 31, 2017

Here at UCOMM, we have been covering scabs a lot, whether it was the Verizon Strike last year or the scabs that have come up to replace the Spectrum workers who have been on strike for the last 6 months. We even covered a movie that was made about them. We find it fitting that today on Halloween we give you some background on where the term scab came from.

The term scab began being used in the 1700’s by laborers who hurled the insult at workers who refused to join the union and worked as strike breakers. For nearly 300 years, it has been used to describe the rats that are willing to undercut their fellow man. It is perhaps best described in Jack London’s poem The Scab.


London wrote this poem in 1903 as unions were fighting to establish their power. The previous decade had been fraught with violence against striking workers. Strikes like the Pullman Strike included scabs replacing union workers and committing acts of violence against the strikers. London was heavily influenced by growing up in the Gilded Age, where companies expanded, making more and more money, but many working families lived in poverty.

Over the decades since London wrote it, the poem has become a rallying cry for union members. It was even cited in a 1974 Supreme Court case, Letter Carriers v. Austin. The poem can be heard recited at union rallies for the last 100 years and has become the official definition of a strikebreaker.

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