- Strike action
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Strike action, also called labour strike, on strike, greve (of French: grève), or simply strike, is a work stoppage caused by the mass refusal of employees to work. A strike usually takes place in response to employee grievances. Strikes became important during the industrial revolution, when mass labour became important in factories and mines. In most countries, they were quickly made illegal, as factory owners had far more political power than workers. Most western countries partially legalized striking in the late 19th or early 20th centuries.
Strikes are sometimes used to put pressure on governments to change policies. Occasionally, strikes destabilise the rule of a particular political party or ruler. In such cases, strikes are often part of a broader social movement taking the form of a campaign of civil resistance. A notable example is the 1980 Gdańsk Shipyard strike led by Lech Wałęsa. This strike was significant in the long campaign of civil resistance for political change in Poland, and was an important mobilised effort that contributed to the fall of the Iron Curtain and the end of communist party rule in eastern Europe.
- 1 History
- 2 Categories of strikes
- 3 Legal prohibitions on strikes
- 4 Strikebreakers
- 5 Methods used by employers to deal with strikes
- 6 Films
- 7 Other uses
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 External links
The strike tactic has a very long history. Towards the end of the 20th dynasty, under Pharaoh Ramses III in ancient Egypt on 14 November 1152 BC, the artisans of the Royal Necropolis at Deir el-Medina organized the first known strike or workers' uprising in recorded history. The event was reported in detail on a papyrus at the time, which has been preserved, and is currently located in Turin. The strike is narrated by John Romer in Ancient Lives: The story of the Pharaohs' Tombmakers  The strike so terrified the Egyptian authorities, as such rebellion was virtually unheard of, that they gave in and raised their wages.
The use of the English word "strike" first appeared in 1768, when sailors, in support of demonstrations in London, "struck" or removed the topgallant sails of merchant ships at port, thus crippling the ships. Official publications have typically used the more neutral words "work stoppage" or "industrial dispute".
In 1917, the Mexican Constitution was the first national constitution that constitutionally guaranteed the right to strike.
In 1937 there were 4,740 strikes in the United States. This was the greatest strike wave in US labor history. This outburst of strikes occurred during a period of deep depression and massive unemployment.
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted in 1967 ensure the right to strike at Article 8.
A list of strikes of historic significance may be found here.
Categories of strikes
Most strikes are undertaken by labor unions during collective bargaining. The object of collective bargaining is to obtain a contract (an agreement between the union and the company) which may include a no-strike clause which prevents strikes, or penalizes the union and/or the workers if they walk out while the contract is in force. The strike is typically reserved as a threat of last resort during negotiations between the company and the union, which may occur just before, or immediately after, the contract expires.
Sometimes a union will strike rather than sign an agreement with a no-strike clause. Such an action was documented in Harlan County, USA, a video about a United Mine Workers strike.
In some industrial unions, the no-strike clause is considered controversial.
Generally, strikes are rare: according to the News Media Guild, 98% of union contracts in the United States are settled each year without a strike. Occasionally, workers decide to strike without the sanction of a labor union, either because the union refuses to endorse such a tactic, or because the workers concerned are not unionized. Such strikes are often described as unofficial. Strikes without formal union authorization are also known as wildcat strikes.
In many countries, wildcat strikes do not enjoy the same legal protections as recognized union strikes, and may result in penalties for the union members who participate or their union. The same often applies in the case of strikes conducted without an official ballot of the union membership, as is required in some countries such as the United Kingdom.
A strike may consist of workers refusing to attend work or picketing outside the workplace to prevent or dissuade people from working in their place or conducting business with their employer. Less frequently workers may occupy the workplace, but refuse either to do their jobs or to leave. This is known as a sit-down strike. A similar tactic is the work-in, where employees occupy the workplace but still continue work, often without pay, which to attempts to show they are still useful, or that worker self-management can be successful. This occurred for instance with factory occupations in the Bienno Rossi strikes-the "two red years" of Italy from 1919-1920.
Another unconventional tactic is work-to-rule (also known as an Italian strike, in Italian Sciopero bianco), in which workers perform their tasks exactly as they are required to but no better. For example, workers might follow all safety regulations in such a way that it impedes their productivity or they might refuse to work overtime. Such strikes may in some cases be a form of "partial strike" or "slowdown".
During the development boom of the 1970s in Australia, the Green ban was developed by certain more socially conscious unions. This is a form of strike action taken by a trade union or other organised labour group for environmentalist or conservationist purposes. This developed from the black ban, strike action taken against a particular job or employer in order to protect the economic interests of the strikers.
United States labor law also draws a distinction, in the case of private sector employers covered by the National Labor Relations Act, between "economic" and "unfair labor practice" strikes. An employer may not fire, but may permanently replace, workers who engage in a strike over economic issues. On the other hand, employers who commit unfair labor practices (ULPs) may not replace employees who strike over ULPs, and must fire any strikebreakers they have hired as replacements in order to reinstate the striking workers.
Strikes may be specific to a particular workplace, employer, or unit within a workplace, or they may encompass an entire industry, or every worker within a city or country. Strikes that involve all workers, or a number of large and important groups of workers, in a particular community or region are known as general strikes. Under some circumstances, strikes may take place in order to put pressure on the State or other authorities or may be a response to unsafe conditions in the workplace.
A sympathy strike is, in a way, a small scale version of a general strike in which one group of workers refuses to cross a picket line established by another as a means of supporting the striking workers. Sympathy strikes, once the norm in the construction industry in the United States, have been made much more difficult to conduct due to decisions of the National Labor Relations Board permitting employers to establish separate or "reserved" gates for particular trades, making it an unlawful secondary boycott for a union to establish a picket line at any gate other than the one reserved for the employer it is picketing. Sympathy strikes may be undertaken by a union as an organization or by individual union members choosing not to cross a picket line.
A jurisdictional strike in United States labor law refers to a concerted refusal to work undertaken by a union to assert its members’ right to particular job assignments and to protest the assignment of disputed work to members of another union or to unorganized workers.
A student strike has the students (sometimes supported by faculty) not attending schools. In some cases, the strike is intended to draw media attention to the institution so that the grievances that are causing the students to "strike" can be aired before the public; this usually damages the institution's (or government's) public image. In other cases, especially in government-supported institutions, the student strike can cause a budgetary imbalance and have actual economic repercussions for the institution.
A hunger strike is a deliberate refusal to eat. Hunger strikes are often used in prisons as a form of political protest. Like student strikes, a hunger strike aims to worsen the public image of the target.
A "sickout", or (especially by uniformed police officers) "blue flu", is a type of strike action in which the strikers call in sick. This is used in cases where laws prohibit certain employees from declaring a strike. Police, firefighters, and air traffic controllers are among the groups commonly barred from striking: usually by state and federal laws meant to ensure the safety and/or security of the general public. So are teachers in some U.S. states (see below). Workers have sometimes circumvented these restrictions by falsely claiming inability to work due to illness.
Legal prohibitions on strikes
In the People's Republic of China and the Former Soviet Union
In some "Marxist-Leninist" regimes, such as the former USSR or the People's Republic of China, striking is illegal and viewed as counter-revolutionary (see Trade unions in the Soviet Union, All-China Federation of Trade Unions). Since the government in such systems claims to represent the working class, it has been argued that unions and strikes were not necessary. In 1976, China signed the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which guaranteed the right to unions and striking, but Chinese officials declared that they had no interest in allowing these liberties. (In June 2008, however, the municipal government in Shenzhen in southern China introduced draft labour regulations, which labour rights advocacy groups say would, if implemented, virtually restore Chinese workers' right to strike.). Trade unions in the Soviet Union served in part as a means to educate workers about the country's economic system. Lenin referred to trade unions as "Schools of Communism." They were essentially state propaganda and control organs to regulate the workforce, also providing them with social activities.
In France, the right to strike is recognized and guaranteed by the Constitution.
A "minimum service" during strikes in public transport was a promise of Nicolas Sarkozy during his campaign for the French presidential election. A law "on social dialogue and continuity of public service in regular terrestrial transports of passengers" was adopted on August 12, 2007, and it took effect on 1 January 2008.
This law, amongst other measures, forces certain categories of public transport workers (such as train and bus drivers) to declare to their employer 48 hours in advance if they intend to go on strike. Should they go on strike without having declared their intention to do so beforehand, they leave themselves open to sanctions.
The unions did and still do oppose this law and argue these 48 hours are used not only to pressure the workers but also to keep files on the more militant workers, who will more easily be undermined in their careers by the employers. Most importantly, they argue this law prevents the more hesitant workers from making the decision to join the strike the day before, once they've been convinced to do so by their colleagues and more particularly the union militants, who maximise their efforts in building the strike (by handing out leaflets, organising meetings, discussing the demands with their colleagues) in the last few days preceding the strike. This law makes it also more difficult for the strike to spread rapidly to other workers, as they are required to wait at least 48 hours before joining the strike.
This law also makes it easier for the employers to organise the production as it may use its human resources more effectively, knowing beforehand who is going to be at work and not, thus undermining, albeit not that much, the effects of the strike.
However, this law has not had much effect as strikes in public transports still occur in France and at times, the workers refuse to comply by the rules of this law. The public transport industry - public or privately owned - remains very militant in France and keen on taking strike action when their interests are threatened by the employers or the government.
The public transport workers in France, in particular the "Cheminots" (employees of the national French railway company) are often seen as the most radical "vanguard" of the French working class. This law has not, in the eyes of many, changed this fact.
In the United Kingdom
The Code of Practice on Industrial Action Ballots and Notices, and sections 22 and 25 of the Employment Relations Act 2004, which concern industrial action notices, commenced on 1 October 2005.
Legislation was enacted in the aftermath of the 1919 police strikes, forbidding British police from both taking industrial action, and discussing the possibility with colleagues. The Police Federation which was created at the time to deal with employment grievances, and provide representation to police officers, has increasingly put pressure on the government, and repeatedly threatened strike action.
In the United States
The Railway Labor Act bans strikes by United States airline and railroad employees except in narrowly defined circumstances. The National Labor Relations Act generally permits strikes, but provides a mechanism to enjoin strikes in industries in which a strike would create a national emergency. The federal government most recently invoked these statutory provisions to obtain an injunction requiring the International Longshore and Warehouse Union return to work in 2002 after having been locked out by the employer group, the Pacific Maritime Association.
Some jurisdictions prohibit all strikes by public employees, under laws such as the "Taylor Law" in New York. Other jurisdictions impose strike bans only on certain categories of workers, particularly those regarded as critical to society: police and firefighters are among the groups commonly barred from striking in these jurisdictions. Some states, such as Michigan, Iowa or Florida, do not allow teachers in public schools to strike. Workers have sometimes circumvented these restrictions by falsely claiming inability to work due to illness — this is sometimes called a "sickout" or "blue flu", the latter receiving its name from the uniforms worn by police officers, who are traditionally prohibited from striking. The term "red flu" has sometimes been used to describe this action when undertaken by firefighters.
Postal workers involved in 1978 wildcat strikes in Jersey City, Kearny, New Jersey, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. were fired under the presidency of Jimmy Carter, and President Ronald Reagan fired air traffic controllers and the PATCO union after the air traffic controllers' strike of 1981.
A strikebreaker is someone who continues to work during strike action by trade unionists or temporary and permanent replacement workers hired to take the place of those on strike. Strikebreakers are commonly given derogatory terms like scab and blackleg. The act of working during a strike – whether by strikebreakers, management personnel, non-unionized employees or members of other unions not on strike – is known as crossing the picket line, regardless of whether it involves actually physically crossing a line of picketing strikers. Crossing a picket line can result in passive and/or active retaliation against that working person.
Irwin, Jones, McGovern (2008) believe that the term 'scab' is part of a larger metaphor involving strikes. They argue that the picket line is symbolic of a wound and those who break its borders to return to work are the scabs who bond that wound. Others have argued that the word is not a part of a larger metaphor but, rather, originates from the old-fashioned English insult, "scab." The OED gives the etymology of 'scab' in this sense as a term of abuse or depreciation derived from the MDu. schabbe, applied to women with the senses ‘slut’ and ‘scold’ and 'scurvy'.
"Blackleg" is an older word and is found in the late-nineteenth/early-twentieth century folk song from Northumberland, Blackleg Miner. The term does not necessarily owe its origins to this tune of unknown origin. The song is, however, notable for its lyrics that encourage violent acts against strikebreakers.
The concept of union strikebreaking or union scabbing refers to any circumstance in which union workers themselves cross picket lines to work.
Unionized workers are sometimes required to cross the picket lines established by other unions due to their organizations having signed contracts which include no-strike clauses. The no-strike clause typically requires that members of the union not conduct any strike action for the duration of the contract; such actions are called sympathy or secondary strikes. Members who honor the picket line in spite of the contract frequently face discipline, for their action may be viewed as a violation of provisions of the contract. Therefore, any union conducting a strike action typically seeks to include a provision of amnesty for all who honored the picket line in the agreement that settles the strike.
No-strike clauses may also prevent unionized workers from engaging in solidarity actions for other workers even when no picket line is crossed. For example, striking workers in manufacturing or mining produce a product which must be transported. In a situation where the factory or mine owners have replaced the strikers, unionized transport workers may feel inclined to refuse to haul any product that is produced by strikebreakers, yet their own contract obligates them to do so.
Historically the practice of union strikebreaking has been a contentious issue in the union movement, and a point of contention between adherents of different union philosophies. For example, supporters of industrial unions, which have sought to organize entire workplaces without regard to individual skills, have criticized craft unions for organizing workplaces into separate unions according to skill, a circumstance that makes union strikebreaking more common. Union strikebreaking is not, however, unique to craft unions.
Methods used by employers to deal with strikes
Most strikes called by unions are somewhat predictable; they typically occur after the contract has expired. However, not all strikes are called by union organizations — some strikes have been called in an effort to pressure employers to recognize unions. Other strikes may be spontaneous actions by working people. Spontaneous strikes are sometimes called "wildcat strikes"; they were the key fighting point in May 1968 in France; most commonly, they are responses to serious (often life-threatening) safety hazards in the workplace rather than wage or hour disputes, etc.
Whatever the cause of the strike, employers are generally motivated to take measures to prevent them, mitigate the impact, or to undermine strikes when they do occur.
Companies which produce products for sale will frequently increase inventories prior to a strike. Salaried employees may be called upon to take the place of strikers, which may entail advance training. If the company has multiple locations, personnel may be redeployed to meet the needs of reduced staff.
Companies may also take out strike insurance prior to an anticipated strike, to help offset the losses which the strike would cause.
Some companies negotiate with the union during a strike; other companies may see a strike as an opportunity to eliminate the union. This is sometimes accomplished by the importation of replacement workers, strikebreakers or "scabs". Historically, strike breaking has often coincided with union busting. It was also called 'Black legging' in the early 20th century, during the Russian socialist movement.
One method of inhibiting a strike is elimination of the union that may launch it, which is sometimes accomplished through union busting. Union busting campaigns may be orchestrated by labor relations consultants, and may utilize the services of labor spies, or asset protection services. Similar services may be engaged during attempts to defeat organizing drives. A modern example of a union buster is The Burke Group.
Another counter to a strike is a lockout, the form of work stoppage in which an employer refuses to allow employees to work. Two of the three employers involved in the Caravan park grocery workers strike of 2003-2004 locked out their employees in response to a strike against the third member of the employer bargaining group. Lockouts are, with certain exceptions, lawful under United States labor law.
Historically, some employers have attempted to break union strikes by force. One of the most famous examples of this occurred during the Homestead Strike of 1892. Industrialist Henry Clay Frick sent private security agents from the Pinkerton National Detective Agency to break the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers strike at a Homestead, Pennsylvania steel mill. Two strikers were killed, twelve wounded, along with two Pinkertons killed and eleven wounded. In the aftermath, Frick was shot in the neck and then stabbed by Alexander Berkman, surviving the attack, while Berkman was sentenced to 22 years in prison.
- Final Offer - A look at the 1984 contract negotiations between General Motors and its union.
- Harlan County, USA, Director: Barbara Kopple, USA 1976–A documentary film about a very long and bitter strike of coal miners in Kentucky
- American Dream, Director: Barbara Kopple, USA 1990 – A documentary film about the unsuccessful 1985-1986 meatpacker's strike against Hormel Foods in Austin, Minnesota.
- Bastard Boys, A miniseries based on the 1998 Australian waterfront dispute.
- Statschka Strike, Director: Sergei Eisenstein, Soviet Union 1924
- Brüder brothers, Director: Werner Hochbaum, Germany 1929–On the general strike in the port of Hamburg, Germany in 1896/97
- The Stars Look Down, Director: Carol Reed, England 1939 – Film about a strike over safety standards at a coal mine in North-East England - based on the Cronin novel
- Salt of the Earth, Director: Herbert J. Biberman, USA 1953–Fictionalized account of an actual zinc-miners' strike in Silver City, New Mexico, in which women took over the picket line to circumvent an injunction barring "striking miners" from company property. The striking women were largely played by real members of the strike, and one woman was deported to Mexico while filming. The union organizer Clinton Jencks (from Jencks v. United States fame) also participated.
- F.I.S.T, Director: Norman Jewison, 1978 – loosely based on the Teamsters union and former president Jimmy Hoffa.
- Norma Rae, Director: Martin Ritt, 1979.
- Matewan, Director: John Sayles, 1987 – critically acclaimed account of a coal mine-workers' strike and attempt to unionize in 1920 in Matewan, a small town in the hills of West Virginia.
- Sometimes, "to go on strike" is used figuratively for machinery or equipment not working due to malfunction, e.g. "My computer's on strike".
- Norwood, Stephen H. Strikebreaking and Intimidation. Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 2002. ISBN 0807827053
- Silver, Beverly J. Forces of Labor: Workers' Movements and Globalization Since 1870. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. ISBN 0521520770
- Smith, Stephanie. Household Words: Bloomers, Sucker, Bombshell, Scab, Nigger, Cyber. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006. ISBN 0816645531
- ^ Aleksander Smolar, "Towards 'Self-limiting Revolution': Poland 1970-89', in Adam Roberts and Timothy Garton Ash (eds.), Civil Resistance and Power Politics: The Experience of Non-violent Action from Gandhi to the Present, Oxford University Press, 2009, pp. 127-43. This book contains accounts on certain other strike movements in other countries around the world aimed at overthrowing a regime or a foreign military presence.
- ^ François Daumas, (1969). Ägyptische Kultur im Zeitalter der Pharaonen, pp. 309. Knaur Verlag, Munich
- ^ John Romer, Ancient Lives; the story of the Pharaoh's Tombmakers. London: Phoenix Press, 1984, pp. 116-123 See also E.F. Wente, "A letter of complaint to the Vizier To", in Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 20, 1961 and W.G. Edgerton , "The strikes in Ramses III's Twenty-ninth year", Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 9, 1950.
- ^ National Centre for History Education - Commonwealth History Project :: ozhistorybytes - Issue Eight: The History of Words - Strike
- ^ "A body of sailors..proceeded..to Sunderland.., and at the cross there read a paper, setting forth their grievances... After this they went on board the several ships in that harbour, and struck (lowered down) their yards, in order to prevent them from proceeding to sea." (Ann. Reg. 92, 1768), quoted in Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., s.v. "strike, v.," sense 17; see also sense 24.
- ^ "Abbreviated Timeline of the Modern Labor Movement", University of Wisconsin-La Crosse
- ^ International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Article 8, (d)
- ^ A note from the editor - TwinCities.com
- ^ "Still waiting for Nike to do it," by Tim Connor, page 70.
- ^ 'Factory to the world will soon get the right to strike', by Venkatesan Vembu, Daily News and Analysis, June 26, 2008.
- ^ Police in strike action threat
- ^ Arthur Koestler, Darkness at Noon, p. 60.
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