James Connolly


What is a Scab?


Workers’ Republic, 10 July 1915.
Recently republished in Red Banner, No.7 (PO Box 6587, Dublin 6).
Transcription: Aindrias Ó Cathasaigh.
HTML Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The question seems rather superfluous. We will be told that everyone knows what a scab is. In Dublin the idea of being called a ‘scab’ rightly awakens horror in the minds of all honest workers be they men or women. No one likes to be associated with the creature who, when the rights of Labour were in the balance of conflict, when the dignity of Labour was attacked, when the liberties of Labour were in peril, basely abandoned his fellows and ‘sold the pass’ on his comrades. And yet, as simple as it seems the question involves more than can be answered without a good deal of thought.

What is a scab?

A scab is a worker who in the course of a strike or lock out helps the employer to keep his business going – to dispense with the aid of the men or women he formerly employed. To understand what a scab is we must first understand what constitutes a striker. A strike is an attempt to obtain certain concessions from an employer or group of employers by stopping his business, and thus stopping the flow of profits. If a body of workers are on strike the question of whether they are winning or losing is settled in the long run by their success in stopping their employers’ business. If they succeed in stopping that business they win, if they do not succeed they lose. If their Union is able to pay Strike Pay for a year or two years they would still lose if the business can go on without them; nay, if the Union could pay a Strike Pay greater in amount than the weekly wages they had earned they would still lose if the employer’s business was going on without them. But if the business cannot go on without them then they win. Hence, and this is the pivot of the whole question, whosoever enables the employer to continue his business without the striking workers is scabbing upon those workers.

Now let us imagine a practical illustration of this case. The labourers in the shops and yards of certain Dublin railway depots are on strike for an increase in their miserable wages. The work of these labourers consists mainly in helping or attending certain skilled tradesmen. If the Companies can get men degraded enough to do it they will bring in men to do the work formerly done by the men on strike. These men will be scabs. But what will be the skilled tradesmen who will accept the help of these scabs, who will instruct them in their duties, and work side by side with them in the effort to enable the Companies to defeat the strikers?

Many of the skilled tradesmen have already signified their attitude. All of them have stood firm in their refusal to do other work than their own. On Saturday, July 3rd, six engine drivers on the Midland and Great Western Railway were asked and agreed to wash out the boilers of their engines. On Sunday the local branch of their Union held a meeting and strongly repudiated their action. On Monday the Company requested the attendance of a deputation to discuss the matter in the office. The deputation attended and stood firm in their refusal. The United Smiths are equally firm, as are the Boilermakers.

But looming in the background is the threat of the Companies to get scabs to help the tradesmen. On the Dublin and South Eastern some few scabs have already been obtained. These scabs first worked a coal boat, and then went into the workshops to attend the skilled men as helpers.

As a result these skilled men are already face to face with the question we are treating in this article.

If a labourer who goes into work on a dispute is a scab, what is the skilled tradesman who accepts him as a helper?

We know how our readers would answer the question, we know how the Transport Union has always acted when another Union had its members on strike from the same employment as our members were engaged in, we know what honour and wisdom would dictate, but –

What will the skilled Trades do? How will they answer the question, “What is a scab?” [1]



1. The employers agreed to an increase of 2s. a week for the railway labourers on 14 August.


Last updated on 14.8.2003