Picking at Scabs

Shane Borgess sounds like a Red. Walking the picket line outside a Ralphs supermarket in Irvine, he declares, “We're going to have our own little revolution here.”

Borgess ain't a Red, however. He's one of 70,000 clerks striking Ralphs, Albertsons and Vons stores to protest the chains' plan to cut benefits and introduce a two-tier pay plan–and he's a self-described conservative Republican.

But the strike, which he describes as “almost unreal,” “has taught me something.”

“Am I torn?” he asks. “Sure. Do I respect the union much more now? I do.” There was a time–right up to about midnight on Oct. 11–when Borgess looked down on strikers. “You'd think, 'These clowns.' And now you find yourself in it.”

And, yeah, he gets the irony. The people driving by and giving him a supportive honk are probably Democrats. The people giving him the finger? “Well, let's just say I've gotten some insight into my own kind,” he says. One regular customer refused Borgess' request to shop someplace else with a kind of vicious delight, saying, “I break strikes for a living.” Still another customer couldn't understand the strikers' desire to preserve their medical benefits “when he has to pay $460 per month for health insurance,” Borgess recalls. How'd Borgess respond? “I asked him, 'Should we all be equally miserable?'”

Borgess says most customers have been sympathetic. He finds himself using the unionist vocabulary–calls strike-breakers “scabs” and refers fraternally to strikers as “a family.”

“I've always had a libertarian/conservative leaning,” says Borgess, who once sued his own union over the political uses of members' dues. “But I might have had a more optimistic view of the free-market system then.” Now? “I recognize how valuable the union is. We all come together, put aside our differences and stay strong. It's our only hope.”

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