I keep up with the latest in WGA Strike news by reading a few online update sites. I’ve been increasingly aware of just how bizarre the state of modern unionisation has become. The latest controversy is that a few days ago Jay Leno returned to work with The Tonight Show, saying that 160 people shouldn’t lose their jobs just to get the writers what the writers want. Leno (a WGA member) wrote that show’s monologue and now there’s a debate at some LA paper as to whether or not the journalist covering the strike should have called Leno a “scab” in the article covering the story.
I didn’t grow up in a union household. The closest I came was my dad’s brother, a member of the UAW and an employee of International Harvester. The UAW struck against IH around 1978 or so, I remember my uncle and a few men at our church being out of work for a very long time. The men at my church got different jobs paying a lot less money after several months of striking. My uncle eventually went back to work, but had to move out of state to do so. I remember them struggling for money and being grateful when The Union dropped off a bag of groceries. My dad was ticked because he thought The Union should be ashamed at keeping my uncle–a father of four–out of work for months and trying to buy him off with a sack of food.
So that’s where I stand with unions, I guess. In reading that scuffle in the LA paper though, something struck me about the strike.
I wonder if the people inside unions realise that most of the country is now not unionised. I suppose there was a time in our country where calling someone a scab or accusing them of strikebreaking was a dire thing akin to calling down fire from above. Now, though, it’s sort of the equivalent of calling someone “four-eyes” or “Irish” or one of the other supposedly-perjorative names that are now just harmless statements of fact.
Frankly, I admire anyone who will Be A Scab or Cross A Picket Line if that means that more people can go back to work. Leno’s show had 165 people who were going to lose their jobs for the sake of 19 writers on the show. I’m not a whiz at math, but 165 is (I think) bigger than 19. Having just watched a family member be out of work for 7 months, I’m not eager to see anyone else live that drama.
So toss around arcane names like “scab” all you want, but I’m betting that a majority of Americans see it my way. It’s not 1919 anymore.