I was interviewed for this Zoe Schiffer piece at The Verge on Scabby the Rat, the union symbol that so infuriated Trump’s NLRB general counsel Peter Robb that he sought to ban it.
Robb tried to say that Scabby’s presence at the show was “so intimidating” it could “coerce third parties that have nothing to do with the spat, such as the RV company’s contractors,” according to HuffPost. Such coercion would constitute an illegal secondary boycott.
Luckily for Scabby, Joe Biden took office and promptly fired Robb, replacing him with acting General Counsel Peter Sung Ohr. In February, Ohr filed a motion to withdraw the earlier complaint.
The move indicated that Scabby’s future was — for the moment — secure. But Erik Loomis, a labor history professor at the University of Rhode Island, says he’s not sure the rat is as relevant for the current worker-led movement as it once was. “It doesn’t represent what’s going on in Alabama right now,” he says. “It doesn’t represent organizing at Google. It doesn’t represent the gig worker economy. It really represents an older version of the American labor movement.”
That’s partly because Scabby is a product of the building trades, where the rat has long been associated with “scabs,” or people who cross a picket line during a strike to continue working. Newer organizers, particularly in tech, might not know that history, Loomis says.
Sweeney believes Scabby could still have a place in tech unions, noting they are all fighting for the same cause. “It doesn’t matter if I’m a traditional older union, or if I’m a new tech union, we’re doing the same thing,” he says. “We’re all trying to lift workers’ wages, we’re trying to lift workers’ conditions and dignity up. That’s what we’re about.”
Whether or not Scabby has a place in Bessemer, Loomis says he doesn’t expect the rat to go away anytime soon. That’s partly because of how fervently people like Peter Robb hate it. “It does show just how much that silly inflatable rat infuriates those building owners and contractors,” Loomis says. “If anything, Robb’s attack on it made people defend it even more.”