The History of Scabby the Rat
The recent announcement, already apparently abandoned, that some within organized labor want to abandon “Scabby the Rat” drew immediate protest.
Sean McGarvey, president of the AFL-CIO’s Building and Construction Trades Department, said in a now-deleted tweet, “Meeting with our Presidents and state councils. Issued a call to retire the inflatable rat. It does not reflect our new value proposition.”
As Mike Elk reported at In These Times, the response from union members and lovers of the widely recognized inflatable rat, used to draw attention to workers’ actions, was immediate. One of the loudest wasScabby the Rat himself, via a Twitter account used most of the time to disseminate labor news by a self-described independent hacktivist, consultant, and writer based in Chicago. “’Value proposition?’ Here’s the proposition: treat workers fairly. Here’s the value: you get to do business,” he tweeted in response, the start of a stream of tweets quoting famed labor leaders and denouncing “MBA weasel-speak.”
Love for the rat seems to have trumped value propositions for the time being—since the story broke that leadership was reconsidering his usefulness, he’s popped up in New York, Washington, DC, and even outside the home of Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. His end seems to be a long way off, but where did the rat get his start?
Scabby was born in 1990 in Illinois, from the minds of organizers Ken Lambert and Don Newton from District Council 1 of the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers. According to council director James Allen, the organizers got together and suggested a “bigger than life” symbol for picket lines that would get people’s attention and immediately send a signal to the businesses being picketed.