In trade union parlance, a ‘scab’ is defined as a person who works in spite of an ongoing strike. Usually, scabs are used to patch over the gaping hole that is left behind when unionised workers go out on strike. Scabs are often brought in by the employer to undermine striking unions and maintain the service that is being disrupted by industrial action.
The right to strike has been enshrined in international law for decades. It owes its origins to the first great trade union movements of the world, which rose to prominence in the context of an industrial revolution that advanced humanity’s technological prowess at the cost of lives that were constantly being crushed beneath the boot of wealthy capitalists. The United States was, and remains, a hotbed for trade unionism, as was recently witnessed in the SAG-AFTRA strike that was the longest strike action ever recorded in that union’s history.
US-based companies are notorious for bringing in strikebreakers to disrupt industrial action. Besides employing temporary workers to fill in the void left behind by striking workers, strikebreaker companies also employ negotiators who will actively infiltrate pro-union spaces to diffuse the tension and throw off the collective determination that is necessary for a strike to succeed.
In Malta, we have an entirely different and far more surreal situation – instead of honouring its history as a workers’ party that used to work hand-in-hand with unions, the Labour administration behaves exactly like a collective of scabs.
An analysis of news reports about industrial action in this country over the past three years is very telling.
Based on a review of these reports carried out by this website, at least 18 separate sets of industrial directives were issued by Malta’s largest trade union bodies, covering a vast range of professions such as healthcare professionals (nurses, midwives, carers, and other specialist workers in the sector), educators, doctors, architects, engineers, police officers, diplomats, traffic wardens and Transport Malta officials, environmental health officers, Gozo Channel employees, and Air Malta employees.
An analysis of the reasons why these trade unions issued directives – ranging from refusals to carry out certain duties to outright strikes – quickly shows that the government’s approach is always largely the same.
Trade unions issue directives after months and sometimes even years of stalled negotiations between the government and the respective trade union, negotiations which usually refer to sectoral agreements covering workers in that specific sector. Practically every single trade union mentioned in this analysis called out the government for “dragging its feet” by failing to implement promised changes and revisions to workers’ salaries, with strikes being deployed when the relevant union determines that the government’s offer falls short of what its members need.
While it is not uncommon for negotiation to stall only to resume when workers go out on strike, what’s really insidious about the government’s approach is that it tends to resort to the court to secure warrants of prohibitory injunction against the striking union to deprive workers of their constitutional right to freedom of association. If the court fails to award the government a prohibitory injunction, ministers tend to resort to public media outlets who parrot their message to tarnish the image of striking workers and turn public opinion against them.
The general public must understand that nobody enjoys going out on strike to secure something as basic as an adequate paycheck for the work they are doing. More often than not, the Labour government’s strategy – stalling on empty promises, resorting to court action, and then turning public opinion against the striking union – tends to work on a significant chunk of the population who then fail to provide striking workers with the unanimous support that is the backbone of any trade union strike.
In the context of the instances outlined in the table published in this article, we are talking about key professionals without whom society simply cannot function. It is absolutely pointless to complain about shortages in key sectors like education and healthcare without addressing the issues which have been repeatedly flagged by workers who face dire realities on a day-to-day basis and receive next to no comfort or reassurance from the ministries which are politically responsible for their sector.
To add insult to injury, the government’s major rule of law failures over the past decade meant that taxpayer money that could have gone into consolidating the public purse’s ability to compensate workers adequately has instead been used to compensate corrupt fraudsters colluding with the government to rake in profits from public procurement and to feed a bloated public sector that is full of Labour Party loyalists who are kept on payrolls for their services to the party rather than to the country.
Today’s teachers’ strike is the culmination of years of unkempt promises, burnt-out professionals leaving their jobs for less taxing roles that pay more, and a complete lack of direction from a disorganised ministry that has been tossed around from one Labour Party functionary to another without any coherent vision for the future of Maltese education.
When considering that at least 11 different types of workers resorted to industrial action over the last three years, it is much easier to understand that this goes beyond teachers’ demands. This strike is merely the tip of the spear, one that workers will gladly drive right into the Labour Party’s heart if it keeps up its bullish attitude towards essential workers.
This website fully supports today’s strike, and calls for a more unified approach between all unions who ought to work together to safeguard their rights.