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.
Picking at Scabs - by David Roth
It happens in every NFL game: During a lull in the action, the cameras find the team owner’s private box. These boxes mostly look the same, and the owners—or what’s visible of them behind the light-washed glass that separates them from the rest of the people at the game—mostly look the same. White hair, white (or tanned) faces, the country club casual favored by a certain type of a certain generation of plutocrat, sometimes a fluffy nimbus of poshly soused nephews and in-laws distributed at a respectful difference from The Man Himself. If NBC’s Al Michaels or CBS’s Jim Nantz are doing the game, viewers are treated to a little thumbnail Forbes profile of the owner in question. This will be about the owner’s bravery in sticking with a coach or a GM, his Dedication To Winning, some sort of humanizing you-know-he-actually-flies-his-own-plane detail. If you want it to be, this casual, time-filling handjob artistry can be tacky, actually offensive, or emblematic of the NFL’s high-volume dedication to being as mainstream as possible. But mostly it’s just something that shows up on television when there’s not any actual football happening.
There have been a great many of these lulls in the action, even by the NFL’s usual grunt-and-pause standards, over the first three weeks of the NFL season. This is thanks to the familiar weekly Antietam of injuries, the squirming masses of turf-pounding players with their scrambled knees or steamrolled ankles—or, more frighteningly, the more serious injuries of the stock-still and backboard-loaded sort—which take us solemnly from silent stadiums to commercial breaks where Denis Leary sneers out truck-plaudits from J.D. Power and Associates and Sam Elliott slowly describes a beer that tastes like carbonated bathtub fart as if it was the liquid embodiment of American Exceptionalism.
That’s when football is working like it should. This season’s NFL games have not been up to par; they’ve dragged and slackened into something altogether more static and claustrophobic and chippy and shouty-shovey than most fans have ever seen. That responsibility falls, in the most immediate sense, on the scab officials NFL owners brought in after locking out the referees union over what appears now, in the wake of Monday’s calamitous/amazing “Let Them Eat Cake” game between the Packers and Seahawks, as an amusingly/depressingly small pension-related afterthought of an issue. That’s the game that caused the internet to rise as one and yell, “Are you kidding me?” as a Hail Mary pass on the final play of the game resulted in one ref calling an interception and one calling a touchdown, both hip-deep in boos. The (non-scab) replay official ended up upholding the touchdown call as literally every single other person in the football world looked on in disbelief. TJ Lang, the Packers lineman, summed it up nicely in a statementthat got retweeted nearly 80,000 times: “Fuck it NFL. Fine me and use the money to pay the regular refs.”
It’s unarguable, of course, that the scab refs lost the game for Green Bay. The agonizingly slow play and inevitability of suspect results, however, are just as much the fault of the men in those owners’ suites, and those have been occurring all over the league. The replacement refs have struggled bravely and futilely to peel opposing linemen off each other after seemingly every play. They’d throw flags and refrain from throwing flags seemingly at random; last week’s scariest injury—a sniper-shot of a helmet-to-helmet blindside tackle on Raiders wideout Darius Heyward-Bey that ended with the receiver giving the crowd a thumbs-up from a stretcher—was not flagged at all.
Let’s Just Turn the Refs Into Lazers
We’re 1/16th of the way through the NFL season and the regular referees are still not back, locked out thanks to stalled labor negotiations, during which the league owners refused to negotiate. The refs are demanding more money, but the sums being argued over are miniscule compared to the oceans of cash that the NFL brings in—by some estimates, the two sides differ by about $16.5 million over five years, and some individual players make more than that. The replacement refs aren’t all terrible, but they did manage to give the Seahawks an extra timeout in the game against the Cardinals, and they slowed everything down so much with late calls and referee conferences that the game was practically unwatchable, even more so than a Cardinals-Seahawks matchup would normally be.
Why don’t the owners just give the refs the small change they’re asking for? Many smart observers, such as Tom Scocca of Deadspin, say it’s because the owners are assholes and fuck them, and I’m inclined to agree. The refs control the flow of the game and are in charge of determining what happened when two or more giant men collide at high speeds, and though we don’t usually notice them unless they screw up, they’re a vital part of the game. It’s hard to argue that they’re not worth more money.
Not paying the refs what they’re worth is part of a trend: While football as a sport has been evolving for decades to become faster, more athletic, and incorporate more technology (radios in quarterbacks’ helmets, coordinators’ booths high above the field, cameras capturing every microsecond of every game for further study), the way the game is officiated has remained the same. They do review controversial plays now, but that’s a measure that’s made viewers’ experiences worse—as anyone who’s watched a receiver’s foot drag along the grass over and over again can attest to. Why don’t the balls come equipped with precise GPS chips that would indicate when they cross into the end zone? For that matter, why are the sidelines still chalk and not lasers that could sense when a player steps out of bounds? Why are these games being called by seven human beings on the field with only two eyes each when the job could (probably) be done by a bunch of cameras and a team of full-time experts in a booth somewhere? Sure, these wacky innovations would cost millions and require some kinks to be worked out, but the NFL is a multi-billion dollar industry and most of the owners are plutocrats. Make the refs full-time employees and pay them, but that’s only a start. By 2030, I want the games to be officiated by motion sensors and nanobots. And the cheerleaders should be replaced by 3-D holographic .gifs that summarize the most important news stories of the day. And the players will mostly be lizards. Anyway, on to picking games.
(I went 6-9-1 last week, so you’re probably better off just flipping a coin and following its advice.)
Chicago (+5) at Green Bay
Normally, Thursday night games don’t happen until later in the season, because it’s super exhausting for players to have to go through two NFL games in five days, but now the NFL is like, “Fuck the players, let’s get some weeknight primetime ratings!” Eventually football will be on seven nights a week and my social life will basically come to an end, since I like watching football better than I like most people.