What happens upon a crossing of an established picket line?

Silly question as this seems, I’ve not much experience with strikes. I shall ignore the previous things I’ve heard and ask for informed facts/opinions on this topic.

As we all know, the Broadway musicians are on strike and have formed the customary picket line. I hear comments about how “the so-and-so’s are not going to or haven’t crossed it” daily.

So, I ask, what is the significance of a picket line, and what happens upon the crossing of such a formation?

A picket line formally is a group of striking workers who stand or walk around a business to air their grievance.

Crossing a picket line is often symbolic. Sometimes there are no actual picketers. However another union (such as actors’) will support the aims of the strikers, by not coming to work.

If you have a real picket line and the picketers are in front of the entrance to the business, it becomes both a moral and a physical issue to get across that line. Although I don’t know if Broadway musicians would be as likely to beat the crap out of you as a Teamster.

Crossing the picket line, from what I understand, means someone is stepping in for whomever is striking and takes their place while the strike continues. Since this pretty much defeats the purpose of the strike, it is frowned upon by the unions and workers involved in the strike.

Basically, to not cross a picket line means that you’re supporting the strikers by not doing business with the business they are striking against.

When another union announces that they won’t cross your union’s picket line, they’re showing support for your union, and making your strike more effective by shutting down another busines connection for the company you’re striking against. They probably also expect that, should they ever go on strike, you’ll do them the same favor.

As a real-world example, say you’re a bookkeeper at a Acme Widgets and are part of the clerical union, which has just gone on strike. Acme isn’t that worried, because they think they can survive longer without you than you can without a paycheck. Then, the caterers union announces that they’re not going to cross your picket line. This means that Acme Widgets’ cafeteria is shutting down until your demands are met, which puts more pressure on Acme to speed things up. Then, the truckers’ union announces that they aren’t crossing either. At the same time, they keep out other companies by refusing to do business with anyone who ‘crosses the picket line’ by doing business with Acme (On a personal level, there’s sometimes the threat that individuals who ignore the picket line may get some unpleasant visits in the middle of the night). Now Acme has no bookkeepers or secretaries, no food or kitchen staff, nobody to ship raw materials or finished goods, and nobody willing to do business with them. The company has been shut down and management is much more likely to give you that jaccuzzi you wanted in the locker room.

Can this type of support really be gotten away with? If the clerical union has been picketing for a week, and only then do the caterers and truckers decide not to cross the picket line, then this would seem to imply that they are not physically incapable of crossing it, but rather are refusing to do so out of solidarity. Presumably the union contract between the caterers and truckers and their employer (whether or not it is Acme) does not exempt them from carrying out their employment duties for labour-sympathetic reasons. Will these sympathizers not be fired or at least penalized in some way for refusing to do what they were hired for? After all, it’s the employer, not the employees, who gets to decide which companies she will or will not do business with.

psychonaut, by penalizing their own union members, they risk having them going on strike. Sometimes you have to bite the bullet and realize the union is there and try to make the best of it – trust me, it’s a daily re-realization sometimes.

Several years ago I crossed a picket line for a week. No, I wasn’t a scab, but a salaried worker. In this case the UAW was camping out at the entrances to the plant – they weren’t really “picketing” like you see on TV – and they let people come and go as they pleased without harrassment (that I saw). Those that knew me (and didn’t hate me :)) said “good morning” and so on. Realistically, they knew we weren’t replacing them or directing anyone that was replacing them; we still had stuff to do, and they knew they’d be back to work.

This plant typically had a lot of contract tradesmen as well, specifically the IBEW (electrical workers) for new equipment installation. They didn’t attempt to cross the picket line for the normal solidarity reasons. I suspect, though, that plant management told the contract company not to bother even showing up.

Side note: to the UAW trades, the IBEW guys were scabs taking away their jobs in the plant (during normal working, non-strike conditions), and I sincerely doubt they would have supported any solidarity with the IBEW had the IBEW been the union on strike. But that’s another show.

So, threats (and carryings-out) of bodily harm are sometimes par for the course for those who dare to cross an active picket line?

FWIW, I lived for a short time on the “Other side of the line”. Lemme 'splain.

When I was a youth, I lived in a Children’s home. Basicly, a facility run by the county for kids who were too wild for thier parents and who were taken away from thier parents for whatever reason. The House Parents, (Our daily Parental figgures who lived on campus with us) were members of AFCME, set up a picket line right in the only enterence to the campus. It changed our lives quite a bit and sure got tounges a waggin’ when NBC showed up to do a spot for the national news.
The "scabs’ the county used to get the kids proper supervision were the part timers, who were not Union members and were given a whole lot of overtime. Normaly, these were aides who went home at the end of the day. Those Union members who were Secretarial or security, or whatnot continued working. One supposes because they still had kids to take care of.
There was only one incident of violence by a striker. A busted windshiled.

Among the things we did differently was,

Walk to the edge of campus to get our school bus when usually it came to the doors of the buildings.
Take a different route to the Gym, so we wouldn’t go near the picket lines. (We wern’t even allowed to talk to the strikers, who were supposed to be like Parents to us which upset me as I liked the folks and would have liked to ease thier inconvience)
Workers were not allowed to bring thier cars on campus so they had to park in a lot across the street, and walk over.
Some Trucks,(one assumes they were union companies) which normaly came on campus to be unloaded (Grocery truck in this example) stayed off campus just outside the line and required unloading and hauling to the food storage area by hand.

On a personal front, my father was also a member of that same union, so he would not cross the picket line to come pick me up for the weekends we usually spent together. So, I stayed there the enire time. As well as refusung to cross to come visit me. So for the Month or so they were on strike I got no visits from them. (My Dad was a stong union guy to the point were I got yelled at for watching Scab NFL.)

I know it dosn’t clarify much, but it was fun to tell anyhow. :wink:

It’s much less prevalent now than it used to be. But yeah, in fairly rare circumstances it happens.

Physically harming scabs was a tactic of the mob-run unions. It’s not something a union with an active, militant rank and file would endorse, much less put into action.

This isn’t to say that striking workers wouldn’t take action to prevent scabs from crossing the line - the tactics would be more along the lines of blocking them from entering company property by lining up across the gates.

Threatening someone with harm, of course, is illegal. Interfering with their freedom of access is, no doubt, illegal. I’m sure everyone realizes that actually harming someone is illegal. & it doesn’t matter that your reason is “But we’re on strike!”

I’ve crossed a picket line before, and was basically ignored. Of course, I was just a 19 year old kid at the time, and then, just an intern, and some of the union knew me as someone who wasn’t about to take their jobs, but even without that, there were cops right there, and they stopped the picket so workers could get in. There was swearing, and such, at times, but that’s all. It’s much more of a symbolic thing than a physical blockade.

I crossed a picket line once, but was not a scab replacing anyone. I was working in a government building in Kansas City, MO and everyone there just went on strike one day. I was in the telecommunications part of the job and didn’t even know what the strike was about. Well, a few of the electricians yelled at my boss, saying “We ought to f&@! you up!” but nothing happened. I was told later by a few of the electricians that they understood that we were from a right-to-work state and they were just screwing around with my boss.

As was said earlier, the significance of crossing is that you don’t support the union’s side. Since no one bothered to inform me what the problem was in the first place, I decided to earn my pay that day.

As a government worker, my union isn’t allowed to go on strike (librarians being crucial to public safety of course!), but I have engaged in a couple of one-day walkouts.

Each time we did that, the librarians who were still on probation (and could be fired for not showing up to work) were told to not walk out and to definitely come to work. And if they were sick, they needed to get a note from a doctor.