general strike

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general strike,

sympathetic cessation of work by a majority of the workers in all industries of a locality or nation. Such a stoppage is economic if it is for the purpose of redressing some grievance or pressing upon the employer a series of economic demands. It is political if called for the purpose of wresting some concession from the government or if the goal is the overthrow of the existing government. The political strike has been advocated by the syndicalists and to a certain extent by anarchistic movements. Practically unknown in the United States and Canada, except for some local instances (e.g., Seattle, 1919; Winnipeg, 1919; San Francisco, 1934), the general strike has been a powerful weapon in the hands of European labor since the latter part of the 19th cent. General strikes in Belgium in 1893 and 1902 won suffrage concessions; in Italy, a general strike (1904) protested the use of troops as strikebreakers; a general strike (1905) in Russia resulted in the issuance of the October Manifesto, instituting reforms; a general strike (1909) in Sweden, called against the repeated use of the lockout by employers, encouraged the idea that economic reforms could be gained without resorting to violence; a general strike (1920) in Germany successfully warded off a rightist takeover. In 1926 a general strike in Great Britain was called in sympathetic protest against the national lockout of the coal miners, but the strikers were forced to capitulate when it became clear that the government was able to keep essential services running and when only about half of the workers answered the strike call. In France a general strike, which failed, was called (1938) to protest against a government decree lengthening hours and penalizing strikers. Since World War II, general strikes have occurred mostly on a local level. Notable exceptions are the Belgian workers' reaction (1961) against a government austerity program and the French unions' support (1962) of President Charles de Gaulle during a military insurrection in Algeria. In 1968 another general strike occurred in France when university students and workers joined together during May and June and closed the major industries and universities. The strike ended with an agreement to provide increases in wages for the workers and stronger representation in factory management. In the 1970s the general strike became an often-employed tactic of the Italian trade unions.


See W. H. Crook, The General Strike (1931, repr. 1972); J. Symons, The General Strike (1957); P. H. Goodstein, The Theory of the General Strike from the French Revolution to Poland (1984).

General Strike


one of the basic forms of the proletariat’s class struggle. A general strike includes the workers of one, several, or all branches of industry, transport, and municipal economy, on a national or regional scale. More and more often diverse sectors of the population participate in general strikes, including office and professional workers and members of the intelligentsia. The highest form of general strike is the general political strike.

The idea of a general strike was first proposed (as a “sacred month”) as early as 1839 in England, by the Chartist convention, but the Chartists soon repudiated it. In August 1842 a strike began in Lancashire in support of Chartism. It spread to other regions of the country and almost reached the proportions of a general strike. At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th—until the end of World War I (1914-18)—there were general strikes in which workers of all sectors of the economy of the country or of most of its regions participated. Examples of such strikes include the general political strike of 1893 in Belgium, the general strike of 1903 in south Russia, the all-Russian political strike of October 1905, the coal miners’ general strike of 1912 in Great Britain, and the general strike of January 1918 in Germany. In the years between the two world wars, the general strike of the French railroad workers in 1920 and the general strike of 1926 in Great Britain were instances in which the workers of some or all segments of industry or transport participated. The Bolsheviks, led by V. I. Lenin, persistently struggled against the Mensheviks in Russia and the opportunistic reformists in the Second International, who repudiated general strikes. The Bolsheviks also struggled against the anarchosyndicalists, who regarded general strikes as the only means by which the working class, organized into trade unions, could supposedly liquidate capitalism and take over the control of the means of production. Speaking of the Revolution of 1905-07 in Russia, Lenin pointed out that it “was the first though certainly not the last great revolution in world history in which the mass political strike played an extraordinarily important part” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 30, p. 311). The Bolsheviks also stressed the importance of the combination of a mass political strike with rebellion during the Revolution of 1905-07 in Russia. “The general political strike,” wrote Lenin in February 1906, “in the present stage of the movement must be regarded not so much an independent means of struggle as an auxiliary to insurrection” (Poln. sobr. soch., vol. 12, p. 227).

During World War II (1939-45) in European countries occupied by German fascist troops, workers in a number of instances employed general strikes as one of the means of struggle against the invaders, for example, the Athens general strike of 1943 and the general protest strike of 1944 against the occupation of Denmark.

After World War II, as the general crisis of capitalism intensified and the strike movement progressed, general strikes became more frequent, the number of their participants grew, and the strikers’ demands and appeals became more diverse. They called for an end to intervention in Indo-China and to the capitalistic streamlining of production, and they demanded more extensive social rights for workers and opposed attempts to curtail these rights. In the course of these general strikes, workers’ economic demands have been combined more and more with political demands directed against the state monopoly system. General strikes are becoming an important element in the toilers’ struggle for far-reaching socioeconomic reforms. General strikes of various proportions have occurred in Italy, France, Japan, the USA, Great Britain, Belgium, Brazil, Argentina, and other countries. One of the largest strikes in the history of the strike movement was the general strike of 1968 in France.

general strike

a strike by all or most of the workers of a country, province, city, etc., esp (caps.) such a strike that took place in Britain in 1926
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