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"Look kids, it's Scabby the Rat! No, those aren't nipples. Now stop crying!"
Last week there was a post about Scabby the Rat and the tweets of Building Trades President Sean McGarvey. I had no idea how 'controversial' these statements were supposed to be until I got to the comments. Let me be clear- I know nothing of the man and offer no endorsement. But I also have no reason to question his motives. A few in the comments felt differently. Some questioned his character or if he was a 'moron'. Some believed his statements were actually wrong!

Lets take a look at these four controversial sentences.
"Meeting with our Presidents and state councils. Issued a call to retire the inflatable rat. It does not reflect our new value proposition. Actually we intend to grow our market share by showing owners our value proposition: training and industry partnerships."

100% true and necessary. The Bakers Union has argued this very point all along on behalf of its membership. The best reason for the new owners of Hostess to go Union is the value added by the years of specialized training the baking industry and Union have provided for the membership. Our collective skills could reopen those bakeries and have products on the shelves within two weeks. Without us, no one will do it so quick and seamlessly. Those skills are our most valuable asset in negotiations.

I met a man who is in the pipefitters Union in Arizona. He highly recommended that I pursue it for the very reasons stated by McGarvey. He described an apprentice system where he trains as an assistant to a pipefitter. He makes over $17 an hour as the apprentice. After 'graduating' he will draw between $36 and $40 an hour and he says he is well on his way! The Union helps develop his skills and increases his value to production, which in turn increases his paycheck and job security over time. How's that for 'training and partnership'.

Now why can't the Bakers have something like that? It takes 3 years of employment to reach full rate of pay as a baker. That waiting period is the company acknowledging that experience has value. If experience has no value then why not start everyone at top rate? By the end of those three years the value of that employee should be considerably higher than someone walking in the door. If not, then the company AND the Union have missed an opportunity to maximize their potential.

Labor law falsely categorizes workers in groups of 'skilled' and 'unskilled'. There needs to be a lot more grey area than that. Despite their obvious skills, Bakers are considered 'unskilled'. This categorization is both inaccurate and damaging to negotiations. I think the statements by McGarvey convey that important message better than a VD rat. Just sayin'.

The discussion of Scabby in the comment section revealed many different levels of awareness. Some knew little of Scabby while others laid out the history of everyone's most/least favorite rat. It is clear that the symbolism is lost on some and misread by others. Mostly I was surprised that Scabby would get so much credit for success, considering the track record of Unions in his era.

Scabby is damaging to Union efforts and I realize some will think me a 'sniveling' 'moron' but I am going to explain anyway.

The symbolism of Scabby.
What is a scab? A scab is anyone who doesn't join the Union but still gains the benefits. Kansas is a 'right to work' state so you don't have to join the Union. Freeloaders still take the vacations and health and pension benefits the Union negotiates but they don't pay their Union dues and they don't stop working during strikes. They are selfish to say the least, gaining from the risk of others while taking no risk of their own.

So... Scabby the Rat is a scab, right? He represents the people who are working during the strike. He is the ultimate freeloader. And we all know what we need to do to a scab, right? Pick it. The message being sent to the workers inside the building looking out at the picket line is that they are the giant rat with scabs on his junk, and you don't want to be one of those do you?

Is there any mistaking this symbolism? YES! A TV viewer at home watching the news and completely unaware of 'scabs' is going to fill in the blanks with their own experiences. They may not know what the rat 'is' but they know it's an intimidation tactic. Then their favorite and most relied upon news source mentions 'Union thugs' and 'Union bosses' and shows clips of beer bellies screaming and shoving while a disgusting VD rat charges across the TV screen.

There are many vague meanings to the long and storied history of this rat, but perception is reality. No one can argue that the perception of Unions is a positive one in the era of Scabby the Rat.

Scabs in real life
At the Lenexa bakery there was only one long term scab to the Bakers Union. A few short timers came and went. There were four Union members I know of who became scabs during the strike. Add a few new people and the Bakers saw less than 10 scabs in Lenexa, out of approximately 179 total regional members during the strike.

Our long term scab was an anti-Union conservative, willingly brainwashed by talk radio. The four who crossed the picket line were Union members and had voted the same as the rest of us. But when it came time to act they didn't. I don't know or care why. They made the wrong choice but it was theirs to make. The new people who crossed the line all said the same basic things, not my fight, join afterwards, bills to pay, new job....

I worked very hard to sign people up for the Union in the months leading up to the strike. I initiated conversations with EVERY new person. I even attempted to discuss it with the long-time scab. I never once said anything to imply physical harm or danger. I never suggested stress or repercussions. If I had there would have been far MORE scabs. Several times I was forced to undue damage caused by other Union members.

Preventing scabs
Instead, I simply told the truth about the Union and its role in my life and theirs. I pointed out how the Union had created their $16 an hour potential, the pension contributions, and the excellent health care package. It isn't the company being generous, it is the negotiating power of the Union. I would tell them how the previous strike in 2001 prevented a $35 increase in the weekly premium. I would show them that $35 a week times 10 years is $18,200 in money that would be missing from their budget.

Threats would have alienated them and done nothing to answer the perfectly fair question "Why be Union?" A member who joins out of fear is not a real asset to the Union. Someone who understands the personal benefits of membership is a fighter and is far more likely to stand up to company bullies, a daily need. They will represent themselves and the Union in a positive light.

It's a fair question, answer it!
Why be Union?
Because negotiating together will lead to a middle class life.
Because a supervisor's mental health should not affect your job.
Because everyone who works here has nice teeth.
Because the HR department should be renamed 'lawsuit prevention'
Because $35 a week times 10 years is $18,200.
Because you need a partner if you are sitting in an office with a bunch of suits, and you're not sure why.
Because vacations and holidays are the shit!
Because the rules should be applied equally in all situations, not manipulated to punish a few.
Because funds are fungible and mysteriously soak up pensions.

Do we really need to add 'because you should be afraid?' Unions are not the bullies in this fight. We are the ones being pushed around in courts of law. I don't care if you can puff out your chest, I care if you can argue a case.

What Scabby really represents
How about 30 years of failure by Unions to 'argue the case'. Steeply declining membership. Disappearing pensions. Lack of recruitment efforts. A 6.6% private sector membership . A media narrative of 'Bosses' and 'Thugs'. Or just the old guard puffing out their chests while saying 'in the old days we'd shoot out your radiator'.

Well it ain't the old days anymore. There won't be any gunfights, but there are court cases and PR wars right around the corner. These companies only fear loss of profit, so that rat is no threat. Neither is your bat or your shotgun. Hell, they would love to see that on TV, next to the rat! PR is the only weapon left and they seem to be the only ones arming themselves.

Goodbye Scabby the Rat, and all you represent.

Talk facts, not rats! It is time to evolve the fight.
"Inside the Hostess Bankery- The Movie"

"Working in These Times, IWW"

Originally posted to In Support of Labor and Unions on Tue Feb 05, 2013 at 03:39 AM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  You also have to remember the market symbolism (5+ / 0-)

    We live in a big, broad nation where people perceive things differently.  In east coast markets, particularly New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Boston.. the "rat" symbol is long entrenched and people have an almost instant understanding of meaning.  It's a social norm.

    Meanwhile, in the midwest, the "rat" doesn't impact people in nearly the same way.  Outside of a long cultural history in farm communities of rats=damage to crop/loss of food/production, it's goes beyond that.

    A rat to protest say, construction leaves no real alternative assumption of what's going on.  A rat to protest food production isn't going to be easily understood by a lot of people in the midwest because that social script that exists in the eastern markets doesn't exist here... the point gets lost.

    I think if you want to make that case eitehr group needs to find a way to do it that doesn't impact poorly on their base.  A rat to protest scabs in food production is probably a bad idea ;)

    Gandhi's Seven Sins: Wealth without work; Pleasure without conscience; Knowledge without character; Commerce without morality; Science without humanity; Worship without sacrifice; Politics without principle

    by Chris Reeves on Tue Feb 05, 2013 at 06:20:18 AM PST

    •  Yeah, you do. (4+ / 0-)

      The Union rat is a highly visible sign of the picket line at his feet, indicating a labor v. management issue that could not be managed by negotiation is present. In the places where the Rat is known, his meaning is clear, but he is a bit more visible than the inevitable picket line with leaflets and union workers at his feet. Not every union dispute can be solved by white collar, polite, means, and it takes a tool away from unions to say that picket lines and leafleting, and the rat who keeps them company, is somehow now out of line. Beside's the rat is cute.

      •  The rat is cute? I can't go there. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I would just point out that "indicating a labor v. management issue that could not be managed by negotiation is present". Two points. 1) the rat doesn't tell anyone what that 'issue' is. 2) the rat pushes as many people away from Unions as it does from the business.

        Also, I never said that "picket lines and leafleting" are "somehow out of line". Take your kids with you to picket, not a giant rubber rat. People can relate to kids and it will educate witnesses to the family and community effects of being Union.

        •  Why even strike and picket? (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          That generates bad PR also.

          I know why you had to strike, and I supported your decision. But if you are worried about PR, why picket and risk angering the public?  You made some people angry just by striking.

          In your Hostess strike, management didn't try to break your union by training thousands of strikebreakers like Greyhound or Phelps Dodge or Boise Cascade or Int'l Paper or Good Sam Hospital or American Sugar.

          They didn't hire BE&K or Gettier & Associates or Strom Engineering or USN to supply scabs and maintain the equipment.

          Hostess also relied on consumer loyalty. Public Relations could actually put pressure on Hostess.

          Good PR doesn't always matter much in a labor dispute, especially regarding a construction project.  The rat is mainly about construction jobs.

          The worst PR in the world won't influence a company from using non-union construction.  Few will boycott their product, or even remember, three years later after their plant is built.

          Orly, it isn't evidence just because you downloaded it from the internet.

          by 6412093 on Tue Feb 05, 2013 at 02:04:21 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Unions need to engage the public (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            tmservo433, 6412093, congenitalefty

            I am not afraid of bad PR. I want to engage in the PR war to show people that Unions are right. Scabby is a handicap in that battlefield.

            Hostess did try to break the strike for 4 days but the management was so incompetent they couldn't even do that. They prepared for the strike for a year and had total control of the timing of the strike because we told them we would walk when they imposed the contract. They stalled to prepare and then failed anyway.

            I am not saying PR will win labor disputes. I doubt you're saying the rat does either. I am saying that if private sector Unions do not engage the public we will always lose in public opinion, which ALWAYS hurts negotiations.

            •  THe rat is in its own way a whimsical and highly (0+ / 0-)

              visible way of telling passers by that a labor dispute is in progress wherever it is seen, and, if anything, encourages them to come find out what the dispute is and who is involved, without having children catch cold in picket lines in places they are usually too small to be seen in directly, anyway. The first  Union rat e I saw was wearing a T shirt and a baseball cap. I stand by the idea that he is cute, and attracts others to ask not necessarily hostile questions.

      •  Amen. This attempt to get ever-more "nice" (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        6412093, Justus

        every time we get pushed back, as if we're going to convince people on the other side to stop kicking us if only we somehow get "nice" enough, is obviously a failure. We've been trying it for over 20 years now.

        if necessary for years; if necessary, alone

        by SouthernLiberalinMD on Tue Feb 05, 2013 at 01:25:16 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Your experience is not (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Everyone's experience.  I get your point.  As a kid, though, growing up in rural Kansas, I had first hand with more then a few giant, blow up rats.  

        But they were at county fairs to sell pesticide to farmers.

        I think that's part of the difference in social script I'm talking about.  This is where we get to:

        In the places where the Rat is known
        Here it's not so much of an impact.  At least not the one you want.  I'm much more familiar with union workers standing outside of a building with a large banners that read:


        Those banners tend to be effective and get the point across.

        A giant rat in front of a food production facility just strikes me as a bad bit of rhetoric.  Not as effective as you'd want it.


        Gandhi's Seven Sins: Wealth without work; Pleasure without conscience; Knowledge without character; Commerce without morality; Science without humanity; Worship without sacrifice; Politics without principle

        by Chris Reeves on Tue Feb 05, 2013 at 02:18:14 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  labor law does not cover skilled v. unskilled (5+ / 0-)

    I've blown up a rat or two in my union,  and every body knows it's the boss who is being a rat.

    It's not a fake orgasm; it's a real yawn.

    by sayitaintso on Tue Feb 05, 2013 at 10:21:08 AM PST

  •  Immigration has a skilled labor definition (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Stude Dude

    in terms of length of apprenticeship. I don't know how long it takes to be a baker. I do know we need more private-sector unionization, and less union working only for the benefits of existing members (often in the public sector, able to collude with their employers since profitability is irrelevant).

    •  Bakers are 'unskilled' and start immediately (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      There is no waiting period other than the 3 years to reach full rate of pay. The skills needed are not learned overnight. The old publicly traded company understood that those 3 years were meant to develop skills. The hedge funds only saw the benefit of chasing out older full rate workers in exchange for newer cheaper ones. This caused a tremendous drop in efficiency and quality over the last few years.

      As far as "less union working only for the benefits of existing members" I couldn't agree more. I have seen and heard many examples of Unions creating different tiers for older members to maintain, while new ones earn half or even less. The John Deere plant in Waterloo, IA is a prime example. At least the Bakers never did that to us.

      We need a little less of this too.

      •  The two tiered (0+ / 0-)

        wage system at Deere--and at GM, Ford, and Chrysler--came about in the early 2000's, at a time when the companies were pushing hard for concessions of all sorts--vacation time, pension, medical, dental, yearly wage increases, COLA, profit sharing, all were on the table. The idea of a lower wage for new hires, when the companies were still busy downsizing the workforce through attrition, and there were no new hires and weren't going to be any for the foreseeable future, was an attractive one. So they negotiated a concession that affected no one at the time it was agreed to, and avoided giving up benefits for their membership. They figured they'd cross the bridge of dealing with the obvious injustice of the two tiered compensation system when they came to it.

        Well, now it's here. They have guys making $14 per hour working right next to older workers making twice that. And in MI, where a lot of new auto hiring is taking place, our shiny new RTW law will allow those workers who don't think the union is working hard enough to right that wrong to withhold their dues.

        "A lie is not the other side of a story; it's just a lie."

        by happy camper on Wed Feb 06, 2013 at 09:10:35 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  "I smell a rat." (4+ / 0-)

    This sentiment is always relevant when dealing with the Power of Organized Money.  Scabby has not outlived his usefulness, depending on the forum.

  •  Not Sure (6+ / 0-)

    The rat is also a consumer guide for those of us who want our spending to go into businesses that treat labor a certain way.

    Living here in the New York area, I see the inflatable rat in front of businesses occasionally and take note. I don't want to patronize businesses that have a bad relationship with organized labor.

    "I'll believe that corporations are people when I see Rick Perry execute one."

    by bink on Tue Feb 05, 2013 at 11:09:25 AM PST

  •  I have to agree with what timservo433 said, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SouthernLiberalinMD, ichibon

    that the "rat" makes no sense to me out in the Rocky Mountain West. I'd never heard of Scabby the Rat until the call came for him to be retired, and I was left with a bewildered "WTF?" --as in, why would a union want to be identified with a rat, of all things? I had zero context for it.

    Yeah, right now unions are in decline, and so are wages and pensions, but no one sees the connection. They won't, either, until they are left with almost nothing and we have to fight all over again, the same battles, albeit in different ways.

    People who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it; those of us who know history are doomed to watch in stunned frustration as the ignorati fight the same battles over and over again.

  •  Building trades worker spend their own money (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ichibon, Dirtandiron, Justus

    to support multi-year apprenticeship training programs for incoming workers in their craft. Each worker allocates a contractually-set portion of their own pay, from their own pocket, to pay for training to prepare the next generation of workers.

    Construction training programs can last several years, and the educated worker possesses a extremely high skill level and proficiency at their craft.

    Why, then, have employers viciously attacked the building trades for the last 130 years?  

    They've sent troops and  police to attack us.  They've imported, at high cost, countless thousands of desperate semi-skilled workers from the poorer states and the poorer countries, to break our wage scales.

    They've paid legislators to dismantle the laws that protected our right to organize.

    The diary cited the Arizona pipefitter and his training program as an alternative tactic. Let's look closer.  Local 469 of the plumbers union in Phoenix, with 3500 members, is one of the best-led and strongest locals in that union.

    Its training program instigated highly technical innovations that allowed union workers access to the painstakingly minute techniques needed for construction and maintenance of the high-tech industry processes.  Local 469 officials call themselves a "semi-conductor" local, not a coal plant  or refinery local like their brethern in the Gulf area.  Local 469 would never picket with a Rat.

    Yet Local 469 represents only a tiny percentage of the Arizona workers in their craft --- about 10%!! (3500 out of roughly 35,000).

    Plainly, many bosses don't give a darn about your high skill levels if your wages are also high.

    Over the decades, the Building Trades gave up most of their picketing.  They pretty much gave up striking, even though they used to strike more than any other union. They continue to provide a high level of worker training, paid for by their members.

    Now I guess the Building Trades will even give up complaining about unfair contractors with strong language.

    I don't believe demonstrating with the Rat was a big help. It did raise our spirits.  But if you want us to give  up tactics, please suggest new tactics that are more effective, because training alone won't do it.

    Orly, it isn't evidence just because you downloaded it from the internet.

    by 6412093 on Tue Feb 05, 2013 at 11:32:14 AM PST

  •  media narratives about bosses and thugs? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dirtandiron, KJG52

    Oh you mean union bosses and thugs.

    I thought you meant, you know, the actual bosses and thugs!

    That's a pretty damned funny misread on my part, now that I think about it. LOL

    But listen, you are, I think, seriously wrong to blame Scabby for those media narratives. I need to go AFK right now, so all I'll say is that you gotta look at who owns the airwaves and media companies. Also look at Lewis Powell's famous memo. The RW revolution had at its heart, among other things, the desire to character assassinate unions and make them as unpopular as possible, for obvious reasons. You can't say that Scabby is responsible for all this, nor even a large part of it. There is no narrative so nice that your enemy will not twist it against you. Ask the people of Wisconsin.

    if necessary for years; if necessary, alone

    by SouthernLiberalinMD on Tue Feb 05, 2013 at 01:23:09 PM PST

  •  Whenever I saw the rat being deployed in (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Brooklyn, it seemed the rat "handlers" were exactly the same Mob soldiers i saw walking around carol gardens.

    Despite my Union leanings, it always made me queasy.
    Effective PR, it never was....

    •  Are you in the FBI? (0+ / 0-)
      were exactly the same Mob soldiers
       Even law enforcement has to rely on a network of informants and electronic surveillance to know who is an actual member of the mob, so how do you know?

      Where are all the jobs, Boehner?

      by Dirtandiron on Tue Feb 05, 2013 at 05:11:38 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  totally agree (3+ / 0-)

    Unions need to argue the positive case.  Outside of union members, there are very few people who see that unions are a good idea, and it's time to fix that.

    Unions should be arguing that their work is better than non-union work.

    Unions should be giving carrots to the companies that welcome them by promoting how they do better work.

    Unions should make a huge deal about how they train their employees.

    Unions should make a point to remove people from their ranks who are not doing good jobs.  They should not defend every employee.

    If unions started doing these things, it would be damn near impossible for the 'bosses' to defeat them.

    For those who say that bosses and unions can never get along: check out how things work in Germany.  This is the only model that works.

  •  I was unaware of the rat (4+ / 0-)

    until he stood by me when Texas was in process of being permanently redistricted in favour of the Repugs, until he stood by me when I felt I was alone in a sea of red, until I realised that working class folks were my natural allies.
    I see your point, but I'll miss the rat.

    "We are monkeys with money and guns". Tom Waits

    by northsylvania on Tue Feb 05, 2013 at 03:13:22 PM PST

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