[UPDATE: Strikers have settled! But these suggestions below can come in handy next time, especially with more pre-planning and lead time. Heh heh heh]
Here are some background and tips if you want to be a scab/spy or “salt” as it’s also known. I’ll start with a bit of my history with this.
Back in ’98, I got a job as a “replacement worker”—aka “scab”—at two different Kaiser Aluminum plants struck by the United Steelworkers. They were on strike against Kaiser Aluminum’s new corporate owner, junk bond and S&L scandal criminal Charles Hurwitz, owner of Maxxam Corporation. Here in Norcal, we’d been fighting Maxxam since ’85 after they’d taken over Pacific Lumber and begun liquidating old growth redwood forests. When we in Humboldt heard about the Steelworkers striking in Washington State against the same company, we immediately jumped at the opportunity to form alliances.
I suggested the salt/spy idea to the Steelworkers partly because I’d been intrigued by the possibilities of doing that and partly because I think the way to understand someone’s struggles is to actually do the work they do. It took me about one hour in the Tacoma plant (now closed) to understand what they were fighting for. Dirty, dangerous, hot and difficult—the Steelworkers deserved everything they were asking for.
I applied to the Tacoma plant first and got a job. Worked for a week and quit, coming out to talk to the media the Steelworkers had arranged. Then, ten days later, I applied to the Spokane plant and worked there for almost two weeks. I quit at the beginning of my shift. Walking out toward the gate, I unfurled a poster I’d hidden rolled up in my coat that said “No more scabbing for Charles Hurwitz!” The local sheriff’s deputy and security guard tried to detain me. I showed them my company ID and said I was a scab and I wanted to quit! The Steelworkers got on their bullhorn and chanted “Let the scab quit! Let the scab quit!” It was frickin’ hilarious and we got some great press out of it.
And I got paid well by the enemy for it.
Inside, we did some down-low propaganda subversion designed to sow distrust in the managers and scabs. I routinely felt-penned “caution, made by scab labor” under the labels on giant rolls of aircraft aluminum going to Boeing, along with other similar bits of playful nonviolent subversion and minor dirty tricks.
So, here’s what I learned:
The first time I talked to the press, I sucked. I was exhausted from the long, dirty hard shift and had expected the union guys to have talking points ready, a press release, union workers there to be interviewed and so on. I was totally unprepared and blurry and kept getting sucked into the mainstream media’s tangential or hostile questions. I’m not very good on camera to start with. It wasn’t bad, but it was a missed opportunity.
A similar thing happened at the Trentwood/Spokane plant, but I had it more together. This time, I went to a union office and wrote my own press release, but it took forever to get on a computer (no laptop or iPhone! then), get it printed and drive myself back to the job. I’d been working night shifts, so had been up 24 hours and was fried. The media had been tipped off and had been waiting at the gate a couple hours before, but by the time I got everything together, rode in on the scab bus and walked back out, the cameras had left. As a result, we got good print coverage, but no TV, which was a big missed opportunity because it was such a funny drama.
The lesson is to have a support crew outside who can take care of all that kind of work. If you need stickers or other propaganda, they can print it up. They can make sure you have the talking points nailed down in case the media are hostile and you’ve been working night shifts. From inside, you can listen to the scabs and gauge their reactions to the gate actions and get people to modify the actions as necessary.
The other lesson is to work in teams. I was all alone in those big, heavy-industrial mega-plants. I like those kinds of places and I like driving forklifts, but still it was a dangerous new job and I was undercover. Pretty high-stakes and high-stress. It would’ve been easier if there had been a couple of us.
There are many options once you get the scab job:
* quietly walk off/not show up;
* work for a while and quietly spy, passing on any useful info;
* work slowly or poorly until they fire you (you still get paid!);
* be a model worker because then when they find out you were a spy, it really throws them;
* walk off the job publicly and make a press show of it, pointing out the terrible conditions or poor benefits and so on;
* hand out leaflets or make a speech to the other scab workers asking them to quit until they throw you out;
* engage in psy-ops, creating suspicion and distrust (and thereby inefficiency) in management and between management and scab labor;
* wait till there are many salts and walk off publicly en masse;
* do propaganda such as putting stickers in boxes of product;
* do a sit-in or blockade or banner-hang inside the plant till they arrest you, using the press and court to grandstand the cause.
So many ways to have fun! All are nonviolent and all but the last two are more or less legal. The picketers outside will love it. Seeing someone come in solidarity, take some risks for their cause and make the company look stupid is a major morale boost.
It’s very important that when you are applying for the job, that you keep track of process vulnerabilities or other opportunities for leverage. For example, if they use phones to hire and recruit, people can make lots of calls to those numbers. If they use locations, people can picket them and so on. As non-union members, we can engage in all sorts of legal activity that is illegal for union members to do, such as secondary picket lines. We can engage in civil disobedience in ways the union members can’t.
As you go through the system, more opportunities for creative action will become evident. In case it’s not obvious, this should be done with the rank and file’s support. They can tell you exactly what information will be useful to them and what the weak points that can be creatively exploited are.