Any doctor will tell you that a scab is a good thing… it protects a wound while it is healing, doesn’t it?
The word’s Norse origins are from back in the 13th century, with "skabbr" describing the crust that forms on top of a wound. Scab – it’s such a simple, but evocative word. By about 1590 its meaning had widened, being used as a term for a low or despicable person. Quite why is not entirely clear. It might be that the first such scabs were miscreants afflicted with syphilis, with its associated scabby skin lesions. By default, therefore, "scab" became used as a derogatory word. By the late 1700s it was being applied to any worker who refused to join an organized trade union movement and by the 19th century "scab" was being used to mean a worker willing to cross picket lines to replace a striking worker. The great unionizing drives of the 1930's transformed this use of "scab" from industrial slang into a household word.
Strike-breaking is also known as "black-legging". This may derive from its link with the 1803 American boot-maker's strike or even have a racist connotation - in 1859 workers were told: "If you dare work we shall consider you as blacks..." The medical explanation is that "Blackleg" and "scab" are both references to the blackleg scabby infectious bacterial disease of sheep and cattle caused by Clostridium chauvoei.
Enough of my wordplay history… Come Thursday, 21st June, it is time for doctors to take a stand.
It remains to be seen how many doctors will hold firm on our collective commitment to industrial action. For the record I will be supporting the strike. As a full time GP Partner I already pay 24.5% of my income into the NHS pension scheme, under terms agreed as affordable by the Department of Health, just four years ago. If this government is allowed to renege on the agreement, my payments are set to rise to 28.5%. MPs on similar pay contribute around 8% towards their pension. The existing NHS pension scheme delivers £2 billion a year more than it costs to our economy.
Don’t be a black-leg - stand up for what is right – stand up for what is reasonable - stand together as a profession.
On this occasion scabs are not a good thing…