Strike action

Female tailors on strike, New York City, February 1910.

Strike action, also called labor strike, labour strike, 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 common during the Industrial Revolution, when mass labor became important in factories and mines. In most countries, strike actions were quickly made illegal,[citation needed] as factory owners had far more power than workers. Most Western countries partially legalized striking in the late 19th or early 20th centuries.

Strikes are sometimes used to pressure governments to change policies. Occasionally, strikes destabilize 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. Notable examples are the 1980 Gdańsk Shipyard, and the 1981 Warning Strike, led by Lech Wałęsa. These strikes were significant in the long campaign of civil resistance for political change in Poland, and were an important mobilizing effort that contributed to the fall of the Iron Curtain and the end of communist party rule in eastern Europe.[1]


Strike action (1879), painting by Theodor Kittelsen


The use of the English word "strike" was first seen 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.[2][3][4] Official publications have typically used the more neutral words "work stoppage" or "industrial dispute".

Pre-industrial strikes

The first historically certain account of strike action was 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 walked off their jobs because they had not been paid.[5][6] The Egyptian authorities raised the wages.

An early predecessor of the general strike may have been the secessio plebis in ancient Rome. In The Outline of History, H. G. Wells characterized this event as "the general strike of the plebeians; the plebeians seem to have invented the strike, which now makes its first appearance in history."[7] Their first strike occurred because they "saw with indignation their friends, who had often served the state bravely in the legions, thrown into chains and reduced to slavery at the demand of patrician creditors."[7]

During and after the Industrial Revolution

Agitated workers face the factory owner in The Strike, painted by Robert Koehler in 1886

The strike action only became a feature of the political landscape with the onset of the Industrial Revolution. For the first time in history, large numbers of people were members of the industrial working class; they lived in cities and exchanged their labor for payment. By the 1830s, when the Chartist movement was at its peak in Britain, a true and widespread 'workers consciousness' was awakening. In 1842 the demands for fairer wages and conditions across many different industries finally exploded into the first modern general strike. After the second Chartist Petition was presented to Parliament in April 1842 and rejected, the strike began in the coal mines of Staffordshire, England, and soon spread through Britain affecting factories, mills in Lancashire and coal mines from Dundee to South Wales and Cornwall.[8] Instead of being a spontaneous uprising of the mutinous masses, the strike was politically motivated and was driven by an agenda to win concessions. Probably as much as half of the then industrial work force were on strike at its peak – over 500,000 men.[citation needed] The local leadership marshalled a growing working class tradition to politically organize their followers to mount an articulate challenge to the capitalist, political establishment. Friedrich Engels, an observer in London at the time, wrote:

by its numbers, this class has become the most powerful in England, and woe betide the wealthy Englishmen when it becomes conscious of this fact ... The English proletarian is only just becoming aware of his power, and the fruits of this awareness were the disturbances of last summer.[9]

As the 19th century progressed, strikes became a fixture of industrial relations across the industrialized world, as workers organized themselves to collectively bargain for better wages and standards with their employers. Karl Marx has condemned the theory of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon criminalizing strike action in his work The Poverty of Philosophy.[10]

In 1937 there were 4,740 strikes in the United States.[11] This was the greatest strike wave in American labor history. The number of major strikes and lockouts in the U.S. fell by 97% from 381 in 1970 to 187 in 1980 to only 11 in 2010. Companies countered the threat of a strike by threatening to close or move a plant.[12][13]

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted in 1967 ensure the right to strike in Article 8 and European Social Charter adopted in 1961 also ensure the right to strike in Article 6.

The Farah Strike, 1972–1974, labeled the "strike of the century," and it was organized and led by Mexican American women predominantly in El Paso, Texas.[14]

Other Languages
العربية: إضراب
aragonés: Vada
беларуская: Забастоўка
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Стачка
български: Стачка
brezhoneg: Harz-labour
català: Vaga
čeština: Stávka
chiShona: Kuramwa Basa
dansk: Strejke
Deutsch: Streik
eesti: Streik
Ελληνικά: Απεργία
español: Huelga
Esperanto: Striko
euskara: Greba
فارسی: اعتصاب
français: Grève
Frysk: Staking
galego: Folga
한국어: 파업
հայերեն: Գործադուլ
hrvatski: Štrajk
Ido: Striko
Bahasa Indonesia: Mogok kerja
íslenska: Verkfall
italiano: Sciopero
עברית: שביתה
қазақша: Ереуіл
Кыргызча: Иш таштоо
Latina: Operistitium
latviešu: Streiks
Lëtzebuergesch: Streik
lietuvių: Streikas
lumbaart: Sciopero
magyar: Sztrájk
Bahasa Melayu: Mogok
Nederlands: Staking
日本語: ストライキ
norsk: Streik
norsk nynorsk: Streik
occitan: Cauma
polski: Strajk
português: Greve
română: Grevă
Runa Simi: Llamk'ay sayachi
русский: Забастовка
shqip: Greva
Simple English: Strike action
slovenčina: Štrajk
slovenščina: Stavka
српски / srpski: Штрајк
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Štrajk
suomi: Lakko
svenska: Strejk
Türkçe: Grev
українська: Страйк
اردو: ہڑتال
Tiếng Việt: Đình công
walon: Greve
文言: 罷工
粵語: 罷工
中文: 罷工