X-Factor Become Union Busters

Originally Posted at Crooks and Liars

In issue 225 of the Marvel comics series X-Factor, writer Peter David portrays the team of super-powered mutants as scabs who help a contractor in his attempt at union busting. While the anti-union segment isn’t a key part of the issue’s story, it is the lead in:

Jamie Madrox, X-Factor leader: We’re not proud of every job we take. Not all of them allow us to seize the moral high ground. In fact…a lot of them don’t. Sometimes you just need to pay the bills.

Contractor: Look…this place has been condemned! I have a contract with the city to tear it down.

Union member: And a contract with our union to do the job!

Contractor: But I don’t need all of you! If you’d just accept the offer for half of —

Union member: No deal!

Contractor: You’re just trying to strong-arm–

Union member: We’re just trying to get what we’re due!

Contractor: Look…you’re forcing me to–

Union member: To what? Hire scabs? Good luck with that. And what’ll you use to take it down? Explosives? Wrecking ball? You can’t do that without union talent.

Contractor: Actually, it turns out I can. Okay. Do it.

The next sequence shows X-Factor member Rictor uses his earthquake-making powers to bring down the building that needed demolition. This portion of the story is written specifically to show that Rictor, who had lost his powers for years, had regained them and to re-establish how powerful he is. In terms of the story, it’s an important moment, and the labor segment of it seems like little more than an aside.

As written, these few pages make it look like either we have two sides of a dispute that are just in a disagreement or that the labor union members are greedy and want to get more from the contractor than he can afford. But there are numerous problems here. The first is it’s clear that there is a contract in place and that union members are the only ones willing to live up to their half of the contract. Second is the idea that the contractor is willing to not only hire scabs, but to hire them despite no evidence that they have the ability to do the job and are, in fact, quite possibly very dangerous:

Madrox: Rictor swore that he could use his earthquake powers to emulate the actions of a controlled implosiong. I was a little worried since he’s only recently reacquired his powers.

Rictor’s boss isn’t even sure he can do the highly dangerous job, but the “hero” is willing to take the job for the money, regardless of the consequences for the safety of the people involved or the livelihood of the workers.

Some might argue that this might be too much to read into a comic book, but it’s obvious that younger readers often form their opinions about new concepts, such as unions, from the popular culture they consume. This casual anti-unionism from David and Marvel is particularly disappointing because David is usually a very progressive writer and Marvel comics are known for their themes, particularly in their mutant comic books, that promote equality and fairness.