The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Strike action

Strike action (or simply strike) describes collective action undertaken by groups of workers in the form of a refusal to perform work. This is a tactic often employed by labor unions during collective bargaining with an employer. However, it is also common for workers 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. Under some circumstances, strikes may take place in order to put pressure on the State or other authorities.

In ordinary usage, the term 'strike' is often used to describe all work stoppages, regardless of the origin of the dispute. In other contexts, however, a strike can be distinguished from a lockout. The former describes a stoppage initiated by workers or unions in an attempt to win improved pay or conditions; the latter describes a stoppage prompted by the employers' action in reducing pay, removing benefits, or in some other respect modifying conditions in a manner detrimental to the interests of workers and unions. The latter is sometimes also described as a defensive strike. In many stoppages, the precise origins of the dispute are unclear, or are contested by the different sides involved. For this reason, the decision to describe a stoppage as a 'strike' or as a 'lockout' may be influenced by one's perspective or political outlook.

A strike may consist of workers refusing to attend work or picketing outside the workplace so as to prevent or dissuade other people from working in their place or conducting business with their employer. Or, a strike may consist of workers attending or occupying the workplace, but refusing either to do their jobs or to leave. This is known as a sit-down strike.[1]

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, are known as general strikes.

People in certain professions, particularly those regarded as critical to society, are sometimes prohibited by law from striking. Police, firefighters, and air traffic controllers are among the groups sometimes affected. Occasionally, people in these professions will try to circumvent strike restrictions, such as by falsely claiming inability to work due to illness — this is sometimes called a "sickout ". The term "blue flu " has sometimes been used to describe this action when taken by police officers.

Strikes first became important during the industrial revolution, when mass labor became important in factories and mines. In most countries they were quickly made illegal as factory owners had far more political power than the workers. Most western countries legalized striking partially in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century.

In Communist regimes such as the former USSR, striking was illegal and viewed as counter-revolutionary. Since the government in such systems was meant to represent the working class it was claimed that unions and strikes were not necessary.

Most other totalitarian systems also ban strikes.


Types of strikes

Strikes against the will of the leadership of the union, or without a union, are known as wildcat strikes. In many countries, wildcat strikes do not enjoy the same legal protections as standard union strikes, and may result in penalties for the union whose members participate. The same often applies in the case of strikes conducted without an official ballot of the union membership (as is required in some countries, e.g. UK).

A sit-down strike (or sit-in) is a strike in which workers show up to work, but refuse to work. Sometimes it includes preventing transports from entering or leaving a factory.

A general strike is a strike affecting all areas of a labor force across many industries, typically throughout an entire country or a large section thereof.

A sympathy strike (or secondary strike) is a strike initiated by workers in one industry and supported by workers in a separate but related industry.

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.

Another tactic short of a full strike is work-to-rule, 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 any overtime.

When an employer prevents employees from working, this is known as a lockout; collectively, lockouts and strikes are known as work stoppages.


People hired to replace striking workers are known as strike-breakers, blacklegs, or scabs, or scab labor. Unionists use the epithet "scab" to refer to workers who are willing to accept terms that union workers have rejected. The word comes from the idea that the workers are covering a wound.


  • 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
  • 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
  • La Reprise du travail aux usines Wonder, Director: Jacques Willemont France 1968 - A short film on the resumption of work after Mai 68
  • Harlan County, U.S.A., Director: Barbara Kopple , USA 1976 - A film about a very long and bitter strike of coal miners in Kentucky
  • American Dream, U.S.A., Director: Barbara Kopple , USA 1991 - A film about the strike at the Hormel plant in Austin, Minnesota.

See also

Last updated: 10-11-2005 01:32:31
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