What is a Scab: Understanding the Role and Impact


The Definition of a Scab

What is a scab? A scab refers to a person who takes over the job of striking workers or works during a strike, often provoking resentment among union members. They are individuals who cross the established picket lines and continue to perform the tasks that striking workers have abandoned in support of their demands. Unions view scabs as undermining the collective power of workers and prolonging the resolution of labor disputes.

Reasons for Scab Involvement

Understanding what is a scab and why individuals choose to become scabs during labor disputes is crucial. Several reasons can compel someone to take such action:

  1. Economic Necessity: Scabs may find themselves in a financially challenging situation, with job insecurity or a lack of alternative employment options, leading them to work during strikes.
  2. Personal Beliefs: Scabs might have ideological differences or disagreements with the striking union, making them choose to continue working or replace striking workers.
  3. Job Opportunities: Some individuals see strikes as an opportunity to secure employment or gain favor with employers, potentially leading to long-term job prospects.
what is a scab

What is a Scab? Impact on Labor Disputes

The role of scabs in labor disputes can have significant implications on the dynamics and outcomes:

  1. Divided Workforce: Scabs create a divide among workers, leading to tensions within the workforce during strikes. It can weaken the solidarity and collective power of union members.
  2. Prolonged Disputes: Scab labor enables employers to continue operations, reducing the immediate pressure to negotiate with striking workers. This can prolong the resolution of the dispute, affecting workers’ abilities to achieve their demands.
  3. Union Power and Bargaining Position: Scabs undermine unions’ leverage and bargaining power by filling the vacant positions of striking workers. This weakens the union’s ability to negotiate favorable terms and protect workers’ rights.
  4. Public Perception: The involvement of scabs can influence public perception of labor disputes, shaping opinions about the legitimacy of worker demands, unions’ effectiveness, and the impact of strikes on the broader community.

The Complexity of Scab Labeling

What is a scab? The term itself is not without controversy, as it carries different connotations depending on one’s perspective on labor movements. While unions often use the term to identify strike-breakers, there are arguments that excessive stigmatization may be attached to individuals who make different choices during labor disputes. The debate surrounding scab labeling highlights the complexity of balancing workers’ rights, individual choices, and the overall goals of labor movements.

In conclusion, understanding what is a scab and its role in labor disputes is crucial for comprehending strike dynamics and the impact on workers’ rights. Scabs continuing work or replacing strikers can prolong disputes and weaken union power. However, the complexities of scab labeling require consideration of diverse perspectives on workers’ rights.


Q: What is a scab or strike regarding workers’ rights?

A: A strike is a collective work stoppage by workers to protest labor conditions, demand better working conditions, or negotiate labor agreements.

Q: What is a picket line?

A: A picket line is a form of protest in which workers congregate outside their workplace, often carrying signs and banners, to draw attention to their cause and dissuade others from crossing the line to work.

Q: What is a scab or a strikebreaker?

A: A strikebreaker is a person who is hired to replace striking workers and continue the work during a strike. They are often seen as controversial and can be the subject of conflict between strikers and management.

Q: When did the Hollywood strike involving actors and writers occur?

A: The Hollywood strike involving actors and writers, often referred to as the Hollywood strike, took place in the late 1700s.

Q: What is the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and its role in labor relations?

A: The Writers Guild of America (WGA) is a labor union representing writers in the motion picture, broadcast, cable, and new media industries. It plays a crucial role in collective bargaining and advocating for the rights of writers.

Q: What does it mean to cross picket lines?

A: Crossing picket lines refers to the act of going to work or conducting business despite the presence of a picket line formed by striking workers. It is often seen as controversial and can lead to tensions between workers and those crossing the line.

Q: How are strikebreakers viewed by fellow workers and the union?

A: Strikebreakers are often viewed negatively by fellow workers and the union as they are seen as undermining the collective bargaining efforts and solidarity of the workers. It can create rifts and tensions within the workplace and the broader labor movement.

Q: What is the significance of the term “scab” in the context of labor relations?

A: The term “scab” is a derogatory and insulting label used to refer to workers who are brought in to replace striking workers during a labor dispute. It is considered an insult and is often associated with the idea of betraying fellow workers and the labor movement.

Q: How do labor unions contribute to workers’ rights and workplace conditions?

A: Labor unions play a vital role in advocating for workers’ rights, improving workplace conditions, negotiating fair wages and benefits, and providing a collective voice for workers in dealing with employers and government authorities.

Q: What are the key aspects of collective bargaining and its impact on labor law?

A: Collective bargaining involves negotiations between employers and representatives of the workers, typically a labor union, to establish the terms and conditions of employment. It has a significant impact on labor law, workplace regulations, and the overall balance of power between workers and management.