16 responses to “Ableist Word Profile: Scab”

  1. Eva Lynn

    Huh… somehow I’d always assumed it was a metaphor, and that they were called ‘scabs’ because they were clotting the factory’s figurative ‘bleeding’ of striking workers. The strike is a wound; the temporary worker is the crust making it nearly-healed but not as good as the original or fully-healed skin (the original worker).

    I’m actually kind of disappointed. Just broadening the application of a word already being used to mean ‘despicable person’ is so much more boring to me!

  2. Sarah

    I never really thought about this, even though I’ve had scabies-induced scabs for years, and when the scabs were at their worst, I definitely got treated badly for it and was told that I was gross, etc. I really like this series. Very educational.
    .-= Sarah´s last blog ..Missing in Causation Talk: Actual Autistics =-.

  3. Caitlin

    I was completely baffled when I started reading this, because I have never in my life heard “scab” used in anything other than the “my knees are scabbed” context. I didn’t even know it had another meaning, let alone on related unions, etc. Maybe it’s a regional thing? Because there have certainly been plenty of strikes here, but as I said, I’ve never heard “scab” used in this context before.

  4. Maia

    meloukhia – ‘Strikebreaker’ is no more a substitute for ‘scab’ than ‘woman’ is for ‘bitch’. There are other historic terms for scabs that could be substitutes – ‘knobstick’ is one I heard recently (although I strongly suspect the etymology for that one would be suspect). But to suggest ‘strikebreaker’ is missing the meaning that is being conveyed with the word ‘scab’.

    Caitlin – where do you live? ‘Scab’ is a term with a strong international history – I’d be surprised if there was an area of the English speaking world that didn’t use it, particularly given the internationalist connections among unions. It’s not a word you’d hear on the news though, more on the picket line.
    .-= Maia´s last blog ..Belle Chose: Dollhouse episode 2.03 review =-.

  5. Anji

    Like Caitlin, I’d never heard of the word ‘scab’ in the context you’re talking about here. I’m in the UK so I have to assume it’s a USian thing?
    .-= Anji´s last blog ..Carnivals! =-.

  6. Norah

    Your post has me with NIN’s “Only” running through my head.

    I used to scratch myself, especially my hands as a ‘stim’, it always left a lot of scabs. My mom told me I’d better find something to replace it with, or people might think I’m ill or filthy and not want to shake my hands or play with me.
    .-= Norah´s last blog ..I’m the world’s most irregular blogger! =-.

  7. PharaohKatt

    Maia: I’ve never heard the word “scab” used as “strikebreaker” before. When I think of it, I think of scabbed knees. I have heard it used for people borrowing money from mates, eg. “Can I scab some money off you?” but not for strikebreaker before. I can’t seem to make the connection between them.
    I wonder also if strikebreaking is the same thing here as it is in the US, with the same connotations? In my experience it hasn’t been, but I have limited experience.
    .-= PharaohKatt´s last blog ..Positive Experiences with Disability Activism =-.

  8. lauredhel

    “Scab” is definitely used in Australia, quite a lot, and Google suggests that it’s a common usage in the UK also. Are the commenters who are unaware of this usage very familiar with socialist/labour activism?

  9. Caitlin

    I’m in Nova Scotia, and there are quite a few unions, but it may be that I’ve never heard it because I’ve mostly read news reports of the various strikes as opposed to being around the picketers. My mother is a union member, but “scab” is definitely not a word she would use in this context.

  10. PharaohKatt

    Lauredhel: I confess, I am not. As I said, I have limited experience, as well as limited workforce experience. Now that I know of this usage I’ll probably hear it around a lot more.

    All of which isn’t to say that the ableist connotations don’t apply. Clearly they do. A word doesn’t suddenly lose the connotations just because someone is unaware of them.

    As far as scab used in the borrowing money context: do you think this has the same sort of ableist connotations? Possibly class connotations as well as ableist ones; someone who needs to borrow (or scab) money is of a lower social class, and thus more likely to have infected sores etc. So, same connotations really, just used in a different context.
    (Sorry if I’m rambly, I’m a little short on spoons right now).
    .-= PharaohKatt´s last blog ..Positive Experiences with Disability Activism =-.

  11. debbie

    Interesting post. As for it being an American term, I have definitely heard it used in this context in much of English-speaking Canada.

  12. romham

    Not to anyone in particular:
    “Scab” is pretty commonplace in labour circles and beyond out here on the west coast of canada. It has a very specific meaning, that “strikebreaker” simply doesnt convey.

    Just to clarify, the “scab” isnt the strike itself. The “scab” is someone (a worker) who allows themselves to be used by the company to cover up the “wound” of unfair wages, shitty (if any) benefits, hour cuts, etc etc by stepping in and doing the job of striking workers. The issues are definitely overlapping, and complex. Shit is virtually never cut and dry, and is usually laced pretty intensely with racism.

  13. Lexin

    I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I never really connected the dots with this word, but now that I have, I’m eliminating it from my word use.

    Same here – I’m a trade union activist in the UK, and I’m very familiar with “scab” as synonymous with someone who crosses a picket line/labour brought in to break a strike. I’ll be watching this entry with interest, because I can’t think of anything which might substitute but which has the force of scab.

  14. Jennifer Kesler

    I always understood the term scab in the “covering up the wound” context others have mentioned here.

    However, I was never a fan of the term simply because it is a derogatory term, and often the people taking the jobs the strikers have vacated are rather desperate for any money they can earn, thanks to a whole different set of outrageous injustices than the strikers are dealing with, and the whole thing smacks of the “divide and conquer” strategy the privileged use to pit less privileged groups against each other.

    In other words, I’m not sure this is a word that SHOULD be replaced at all.
    .-= Jennifer Kesler´s last blog ..Links of Great Interest 11/06/09 =-.

Subscribe without commenting