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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Location: Northwest Arkansas, United States

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Calling a Spade a Spade

Reasons to be Impossible quotes a South African News article that uses a word we rarely see in the American (or British) press:

Tollgate workers are on strike today, following a wage dispute between the union SATAWU and five tollgate operators. One of the operators, Trans-Africa Consortium, is using scab labour [emphasis added by the Impossibilist] at its toll gates on the N1 and N4 between Pretoria and Rustenburg, known as the Bakwena Highway.

By way of commentary, Impossibilist finds it necessary only to ask: "could you imagine a BBC website using that term, ever?"

I certainly can't imagine the mainstream press using it in my neck of the woods. Back in January, the KOLR "news team" in Springfield, Missouri reported on a hospital workers' strike in St. Louis--and their report included an 800 number for would-be "replacement workers" to contact a staffing agency recruiting scabs for St. John's! I emailed the station's news director [polly@kolr10.com] and let her know in no uncertain terms how despicable their unpaid (I assume, at least) advertising on behalf of management was. I got a lame reply claiming that they attempted to quote people from "both sides" in the story. As I pointed out in my further response, the only thing they could have done after that disgusting performance to remain evenhanded would have been to provide an 800 number to contribute to the strike fund.

Back in November 1998, the AFL-CIO organized a demonstration against Wal-Mart in Bentonville. The newspaper I read, the Morning News of Northwest Arkansas, did a fairly decent story that quoted local people both for and against, including people from several area union locals (even a couple of guys from my union who showed up at the demo). The hacks at the KFSM Channel 5 "local news team," on the other hand, did a fluff piece in which all local people quoted were supportive of Wal-Mart (with some denunciations of "outsiders" and demands that they "go back where they came from" if they didn't love Mega-Lo-Mart as much as "we" did). All the demonstrators quoted, on the other hand, were from out of state. In other words, a contrived "hometown folks" vs. "outside agitators" story. I contacted KFSM several times to let them know how much contempt I held them in for their whoring, but received no response.


Blogger freeman said...

That KFSM story is pretty dispicable.

I've actually heard quite a few references to "scabs" in the media. Hockey is my favorite sport to follow, and at times there have been people mentioning the idea of the NHL possibly hiring scab players if lockout didn't end prior to the start of next season. League management, of course, called them "replacement players", but many members of the media who cover hockey are former players who haven't had the "proper" journalism school indoctrination, and thus use the word scab without even thinking about implications.

June 14, 2005 12:34 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

I have blogged on state capitalism in Sub-Saharan Africa today. However, surely in a truly free market employers would be able to hire scabs if they wanted - unless they had contracts with unions or others promising not to. Sure, what we have now are not truly free markets, but does that legitimise making them less free?

Interesting about the BBC, though - they may use the phrase "scab", since BBC workers themselves have been on strike this past month of so, massively disrupting service! Even leading actors in the top soaps and news presenters didn't cross pickets. The today program, BBC's leading radio news program, didn't run for the first time in decades!

June 14, 2005 3:33 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...


I don't favor laws prohibiting employers from hiring scabs. But I do like "scab" as a term of moral disapproval directed against those who cross picket lines.

June 14, 2005 9:00 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

Can you explain why you morally disapprove of so-called "scabs"? I always thought that "scabs" or replacement workers were simply people who needed the job so much they couldn't afford to strike.

On the other hand, I always found the attitude of strikers somewhat bizarre. They abandon their job as a strategy, but they expect to keep it by right? They condemn people who need the job at the terms they were given (terms that the strikers rejected) for taking their place? People on strike wish to set the terms of their employment and prevent other people from taking the job at terms that the employer offered. There is something paradoxical here.

Do employees own their jobs?

June 15, 2005 8:06 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...


I think the "by right" thing is pretty slippery so long as we're living under state capitalism, since most large corporations are the equivalent of feudal estates or latifundia rather than free market businesses. I tend to view strikes and radical union activity as tactical means for bringing state capitalist industry under the kind of worker-homesteading that Rothbard and Hess talked about 35 years ago.

In a decentralist free market society, with much smaller enterprises and a higher wage that reflected the increased bargaining power of labor, I doubt unions would be commonplace. Most capitalist-owned enterprises would be de facto worker-coops, just because of the fact that jobs were competing for workers.

And I agree with Tucker that, so long as we have an unfree market that privileges the owning class, the owners and managers are to be regarded as the strategic aggressor in any labor strife.

As for scabs, you're right, they're often the worst off of the lumpenproles or unskilled laborers, and their extreme need is being taken advantage of. So I probably shouldn't react so strongly. But I view their function as something like crossing enemy lines in a war, being used by the bosses against their fellow workers in a struggle to raise wages.

June 16, 2005 10:44 AM  
Anonymous Wild Pegasus said...

I guess Kev's true colours are, unfortunately, coming through. It seems your care for the "workers" extends only to those state-coddled, wildly overpaid union dolts.

Make no mistake, long ago Big Labour left behind any pretense of being for workers. Instead, the goal is to secure more government intervention to make sure union losers don't have to compete. Sound familiar? It should, that's the same exact garbage Big Business has been pulling for over a century.

Demeaning people who want to do honest work, and worse yet, tarring them as "class enemies", is a play right out of the Marxist handbook.

- Josh

June 16, 2005 3:10 PM  
Blogger freeman said...

Josh - I think you're misrepresenting Kevin's position here a bit. I can't speak for him, but he's never seemed to come across as someone who supports "Big Labour". He certainly recognizes the statist nature of many unions today, so you're merely singing to the choir on that point.

I encourage you to re-read what he has written rather than just lash out in knee-jerk fashion at what you percieve as Marxist garbage. Workers no doubt should have every right to engage in the type of labor that is referred to by many as "scab labor". However, you seem to be blowing off some valid class distinctions that he makes. The subject of class is a very valid one for libertarians to acknowledge and examine, and is not just something out of the Marxist handbook. There indeed is a class war going on, and it's the ones on top who are most conscious of it and are the most aggressive in waging it. You have heard of libertarian class theory before, haven't you?

June 16, 2005 4:35 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...


freeman beat me to it.

If these are my "true colors," I've been showing them since I first started this blog. Certainly never made any effort to hide them!

And if you read what I actually wrote, I didn't demean the scabs as "class enemies," but rather the state capitalists who use them. If anything, in my last comment, I admitted some (grudging) sympathy for them in the way their desperation for work was being used by their class enemies against fellow workers.

And I think I've made it pretty clear in the past that I regard "Big Labor" as a creation of Big Business in collusion with Big Government, brought about to domesticate the real, rank-and-file labor movement.

As for the "Marxist handbook," as freeman says, Marx didn't invent the idea of economic class. Ever hear of Comtean class theory? It was developed by Franz Oppenheimer, Albert Nock, and (for that matter) Rothbard. Brad Spangler has a recent blog post on it, with a link to an article of his.

June 17, 2005 9:31 AM  
Anonymous Wild Pegasus said...

And if you read what I actually wrote, I didn't demean the scabs as "class enemies," but rather the state capitalists who use them.

Let's see:

I don't favor laws prohibiting employers from hiring scabs. But I do like "scab" as a term of moral disapproval directed against those who cross picket lines.

That moral disapproval is not directed at owners but at workers. What's their immoral action? Insufficient solidarity with state-coddled, overpaid union boys? Would you suggest that small business owners feel sorry for GE sharholders?

Momma raised no fool: when lefties start talking about moral disapproval of insufficient class consciousness, massive bloodshed is never far behind.

- Josh

June 17, 2005 11:14 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Well, you saw through my real agenda, Josh. I've got my bat hidden away for kneecapping scabs, and a guillotine for the class enemies. All that free market talk was just a diversion.

The actual use of the term "class enemies" was against those who hire the scabs, not the scabs themselves. And in my most recent responses, I expressed some grudging sympathy with the latter's predicament, along with the moral disapproval.

"state-coddled, overpaid"? The average rust-belt union worker probably receives something close to his full labor-product (unlike everybody else), in exchange for a serious erosion of his control over his own work. Because his employers serve oligopoly markets and are therefore able to mark prices up 20% or so, they can afford to pay halfway decent wages at the consumers' expense.

I direct you, once again, to my negative views on mainstream unions of the AFL-CIO variety. I would greatly prefer a labor movement neither supported nor restrained by the state.

June 20, 2005 2:04 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

I meant to add, union workers in manufacturing industry aren't "state-coddled" or "overpaid." They're taking advantage of the sole institutional mechanism the state has seen fit to leave them, after taking away so many others with the Wagner and Taft-Hartley regime.

And while I'm at it, if the concept of class and class exploitation are legitimate concepts for libertarian analysis--which they are--then those of the class enemy and class solidarity are, as well. My momma didn't raise any fools, either: when righties start conflating any discussion of class with cries of "Marxism," they're fighting a very desperate form of ideological warfare against intrenched privilege.

June 20, 2005 4:40 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Oops--I meant "on behalf of intrenched privilege."

June 21, 2005 10:42 AM  

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