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Strikes in the United States
Work stoppages in North America date from colonial times, but the first documented strike for higher wages seems to have been by printers in Philadelphia (1786), who demanded a minimum wage of $6 per week. Philadelphia's Journeymen Cordwainers became the first union to be convicted of engaging in a criminal conspiracy when they went on strike in 1806. Until the 1930s, when New Deal legislation gave unions the right to organize and strike, U.S. courts frequently ruled that strikes were illegal and issued injunctions to force employees back to work.
The first nationwide strike occurred in 1877, when railroad workers struck in the middle of an economic depression. With the advent in the 1880s of such labor organizations as the Knights of Labor and the American Federation of Labor, strikes became more frequent. Some of the more important industry-wide strikes in the United States have been those waged by the railroad employees in 1877 and 1894, by the United Mine Workers in 1902 and 1946–47, by the steel workers in 1919, 1937, 1952, and 1959, and by the auto workers in 1937 and 1946. Important local strikes have included those of the Western Federation of Miners in the early 20th cent. and of the Teamsters Union in Minneapolis in 1934.
The 1960s and 70s witnessed an increasing number of strikes by public employees, notably teachers, municipal workers, police officers, and firefighters, but generally the tendency in the United States after World War II has been toward fewer strikes. The number of strikes dropped from a record high of 470 involving 1,000 workers or more in 1952, when 2.7 million workers went on strike, to a record low of 29 in 1997, when 339,000 workers struck. (In 1988 only 118,000 workers went out on strike, but there were 40 strikes involving 1,000 workers or more.) In the 1980s employers increasingly adopted the tactic of replacing striking union workers with nonunion workers; in 1981, for example, President Reagan ordered the replacement of 8,590 members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization when they went on strike.
Strikes in Other Countries
See T. R. Brooks, Toil and Trouble (1971); H. H. Hart, The Strike (1971); J. Brecher, Strike! (1972); F. Peterson, Strikes in the United States, 1880–1936 (1937, repr. 1972); P. K. Edwards, Strikes in the United States, 1881–1974 (1981); Labor Conflict in the United States: An Encyclopedia (1990).
one of the basic forms of the class struggle of the proletariat in capitalist countries, consisting of a collective refusal to continue working under previously existing conditions. Strikes may be political or economic, according to their aims. Strikes are frequently accompanied by demonstrations and by sharp clashes with the police, government troops, strikebreakers, and special armed detachments created by the ruling class to fight against the strike movement. A strike can be partial; that is, only a section of the workers and employees of an enterprise or a branch of the economy may go out on strike. It can be a general strike, which usually embraces one, several, or all branches of industry or transport. It can be on a countrywide scale (an all-national strike) or involve only part of a country or region (a local strike).
The first strikes of the preproletariat and the proletariat in the 16th to 18th century were economic, spontaneous, and unorganized. (The strike had been known in Italy as early as the 14th century. The first strike in the history of Europe was the spontaneous strike of hired workers in Florence in 1345, led by the woolcomber Ciuto Brandini, who was executed by the authorities.) In the process of the class struggle and the formation of the class consciousness of the proletariat, economic strikes became more organized and were combined with the workers’ political actions. They frequently were accompanied by armed struggle by the proletariat, as in the Lyon weavers’ uprisings of 1831 and 1834 and the Silesian weavers’ uprisings of 1793 and 1844. In the first half of the 19th century, the strike movement reached its greatest level in Great Britain, in the mass political strike of April 1820 and in the political general strike in the north of the country in August 1842 in support of Chartism. One of the first of the mass strikes in Russia took place in October 1835 at the Osokin Factory in Kazan. The struggle stimulated the development of workers’ organizations, such as trade unions and working-class political parties. It promoted the development of the proletariat’s class consciousness and prepared the proletariat for the ideology of socialism.
The bourgeoisie always conducted a persistent struggle against strikes, using the state apparatus, legal and administrative institutions, and punitive organs. With the assistance of the Le Chapelier Law in France (1791) and the Pitt Law in Great Britain (1799), the capitalists tried to take away from the workers the right to organize and to strike. In a prolonged struggle that lasted through the 19th century, the working class in most capitalist countries won the legalization of the right to strike. However, bourgeois legislation provided numerous grounds for the persecution of strikers. The question of strikes was raised in one form or another at all of the congresses of the First International. K. Marx and F. Engels substantiated the importance of the strike as a proletarian method of struggle. They engaged in sharp polemics with those who denied and distorted the social and political significance of the strike, such as the Proudhonists and the followers of F. Lassalle. At the Geneva congress of the First International in 1866, a resolution was adopted emphasizing the need for international assistance to striking workers. In a resolution of the Brussels congress of 1868, strikes were recognized, in response to a proposal by Marx, as a necessary tool in labor’s struggle with capital. At the same time, the resolution noted that the strike is only one of the methods of struggle and that it cannot be the only instrument for the full liberation of the proletariat from exploitation. Marx and Engels later had to defend the correct understanding of the importance of strikes in their struggle with Bakuninism, which rejected partial strikes and proclaimed the general strike as the workers’ sole, universal means of struggle. Marx and Engels also defended their view of the importance of strikes against the supporters of “pure” trade unionism, who rejected the political struggle of the working class and recognized only economic strikes.
The developing trade unions and proletarian parties began to lead the struggle of the proletariat, including strikes. The struggle began to take the form of organized strikes, prepared in advance and led by elected strike committees. Workers’ strike funds were created to provide assistance for strikers. Manifestations of international solidarity of workers with strikers became not uncommon occurrences. The attempts to organize mutual assistance played a big role in the creation of international trade union associations, such as the International Federation of Textile Workers. Strikes were transformed into a powerful defensive and offensive weapon in the economic and political struggle of the working class. The 1886 Chicago demonstration of striking workers, the Decazeville strike of 1886 in France, and the general political strike of 1893 in Belgium all had great political repercussions. A vast strike broke out at the Morozov Factory in OrekhovoZuevo in Russia in 1885. A strike of 30,000 St. Petersburg textile workers took place in 1896, under the influence of the agitation of the Union for the Struggle for the Liberation of the Working Class, organized by V. I. Lenin in 1895. The development of strikes in Russia during this period compelled the tsarist government to issue a number of laws limiting fines and the length of the working day.
A resolution of the Brussels congress of the Second Inter-national in 1891 noted that “strikes and boycotts are necessary weapons for the working class, both for defense against the enemy’s attack and for the conquest of those concessions that are possible in contemporary bourgeois society.”
The class struggle in capitalist countries has sharply intensified with the move of capitalism into the imperialist stage of development. In the USA there were 247 strikes from 1873 to 1879, 13,100 from 1886 to 1895, and 21,950 from 1896 to 1905. In France the number of strikes increased from 4,070 between 1886 and 1895 to 4,925 between 1896 and 1905. There were 14,790 strikes in Germany from 1900 to 1907. In Russia, there were 1,765 strikes from 1895 to 1904, according to data presented by Lenin in his article “On the Statistics of Strikes in Russia.” With the increase of the revolutionary upsurge in Russia, strikes developed into political and general strikes (the Obukhov defense of 1901, the Batum strike and demonstration of 1902, the Rostov strike of 1902, and the general strike in the south of Russia in 1903). In October to December 1905 the Russian proletariat for the first time in history resorted to the general political strike on a countrywide (all-national) scale. This strike directly led to the armed uprising, the highest form of the class struggle. During the strike of the Ivanovo-Voznesensk weavers in 1905, there arose a soviet of delegates, led by the Bolsheviks, which was a prototype of the Soviets of workers’ deputies. The further strengthening of the strike movement in the following years took place under the influence of the Revolution of 1905–07 in Russia, the experience of which demonstrated the significance of the political general strike.
The Swedish general strike of 1909 and the general strike of the English miners in 1912 were important political events. Mass political strikes took place in Russia in 1912 in response to the Lena shooting. More than 1 million workers struck in all parts of the country. There were 1,272,000 strikers in 1913, and about 1.5 million strikers in the first half of 1914. World War I (1914–18) temporarily halted the development of the strike movement in Russia, but it flared up with new force as early as 1915–16. The political strike that began on Feb. 18, 1917, at the Putilov Plant in Petrograd spread to a number of other enterprises and involved 200,000 workers by February 24. On February 25, it had become a general political strike of the workers of Petrograd, which developed into an uprising on February 26. The February bourgeois-democratic revolution that would overthrow tsarism had begun. Large-scale strikes provoked by the intensification of capitalist exploitation took place in 1917, during the period of power of the bourgeois Provisional Government. Only the Great October Socialist Revolution of 1917, which overthrew the power of capital, eliminated the preconditions for the strike movement in Russia.
The international proletariat in 1917 supported the Great October Socialist Revolution in Russia with numerous strikes. The proletariat expressed through strikes its protest against attempts by the imperialist bourgeoisie to strangle the first socialist state. The era of the general crisis of capitalism is marked by revolutions in a number of countries, including Germany, Austria, and Hungary, in which strikes played an enormous role. The number and duration of strikes sharply increased in such capitalist countries as the USA, Great Britain, France, Italy, and Japan.
The revolutionary international organizations of the working class—the Comintern and the Profintern—emphasized the role of strikes in struggling against the violence of the exploiters and in freeing the workers from the influence of the reformists. In the conditions of the temporary stabilization of capitalism that was developing after the revolutionary upsurge of 1918–23, it was precisely the strike movement that reflected the sharpness of social conflicts, despite the allegations of the reformists. The general strike of 1926 in Great Britain and the Ruhr strike of metalworkers in 1928 are instructive in this respect. Strikes became a component part of the national liberation struggle of peoples of colonial and dependent countries, as with the Shanghai strike in May to September 1925. During the world economic crisis of 1929–33 and in the following prewar years, when the contradictions between labor and capital were sharply intensifying, new masses of working people who had not earlier participated in strikes, such as some strata of white-collar workers, now joined the strike movement for the first time.
Strikes played an important role in the 1930’s, when the Communists initiated the creation of a united front of working people against the fascist danger. The experience of the strike battles of that period, especially in France and Spain, testify to the role of strikes.
During World War II (1939–45) mass economic and political strikes were effective weapons of struggle of the peoples against the occupation regimes in countries enslaved by fascism. Examples include the Athens general strike of 1943, the antifascist strike in the Netherlands with about 1 million participants in April-May 1943, and the general strike in Paris in August 1944, which developed into an armed uprising culminating in the liberation of Paris from the German fascist occupiers.
After World War II the mass character and mass political content of the strike movement increased. The participants in the movement frequently put forward political demands along with economic ones. The struggle entered the phase of large-scale antimonopoly actions. In this period, strikes were more frequently used in colonial and dependent countries as a means of struggle for national liberation.
Today the strike movement is unfolding in conditions of an intensification of all the capitalist contradictions caused by the confrontation between the world system of socialism and the system of capitalism, by the scientific-technological revolution, which the monopolistic bourgeoisie uses for its class interests, by the increased exploitation of broad strata of working people, by the growth of militarism, and by the further coalescence and merging of the apparatus of the largest monopolies with the state apparatus. The most monstrous and reactionary expression of this convergence is the formation of military-industrial complexes. The strike in these conditions is inevitably directed against the state-monopolistic system of exploitation, the central links of which are the intensification of labor and the subjection of the mechanism of prices and taxes to the control of the monopolies. Strikes are the means of struggle against the reactionary socioeconomic policies of the monopolies and bourgeois states. Sometimes they force the government to make concessions. For example, the general strike in France in May-June 1968 compelled De Gaulle’s government to make serious concessions to the workers. Similarly, the strike of the English workers in 1969 paralyzed the attempts of the English government to introduce harsh antilabor legislation. The working class conducts strikes in order to prevent the monopolistic bourgeoisie from using scientific-technological progress in its own narrow selfish interests without any opposition. The workers strike to place production under the democratic control of the people and to transform it into a means of raising the quality of life of the broad masses of working people. Demanding radical democratic changes, the working class, in the final analysis, constitutes a direct threat to the bases of the capitalist system. In the course of intensive and often long drawn-out strike battles, the proletariat of developed capitalist countries has succeeded in obtaining increases in their nominal and real wages. Thus, from 1958 to 1967, the average annual increase in workers1 wages in the Federal Republic of Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Belgium varied up to 10 percent. However, at the same time, the increase in prices of industrial and food products swallowed up 40–60 percent of the nominal size of the increase. Annual wages increased 6–6.5 percent in the USA in 1968–69, but prices rose at the same rate. Strikers frequently win increases in social security and insurance. The partial successes of workers in the course of strikes is a stage in their struggle for broader economic and social goals.
Strikes in the postwar period have been of an exclusively mass character. Thus, there were 80.8 million strikers in the capitalist world between 1919 and 1939, and the number increased to 297.9 million between 1946 and 1.961. More than 300 million workers engaged in strikes between 1960 and 1968, and there were 194 million strikers between 1969 and 1971. Working-class activity in 1972 was also distinguished by its intensive and massive character. The struggle of the working class for concrete economic demands and for broad social changes (nationalization, the rights of unions at enterprises, workers’ control, and job security) merges with the growing general democratic movement against war and racism and for the democratic reform of the universities. The working class, supporting these movements, becomes the most powerful national and international force, and the outcome of the struggle depends on its position.
Other layers of the working population, such as the peasantry, craftsmen, white-collar workers, and the intelligentsia, suffering from the economic and political domination of finance capital, increasingly take up proletarian methods of struggle through striking, as do groups in the population who are subjected to racial discrimination and whose economic situation is sharply worsening. In many countries that have been liberated from colonial oppression, the strike movement, like the workers’ movement as a whole, is directed mainly against foreign capital. At the same time, strikes are increasingly being used by the workers of Asia, Africa, and especially Latin America against local reaction.
The working class engages in various forms of strikes. General strikes on the scale of industrial regions, branches of the economy, or even the entire state, with hundreds of thousands or even millions of workers participating, have become very widespread in the postwar period. Some examples are the general, all-national strike in France in May-June 1968, with 9.5 million strikers, which was a large-scale clash between broad masses of the workers and the system of state monopoly capital; the general strike in Italy on Nov. 14, 1968, with 12 million strikers; the one-day general strike in the machine-building industry of Great Britain on May 15, 1968, with 3 million participants; the general strike in France in March 1969; the “spring offensive” of Japanese workers in 1969, with 14 million participants, and in 1971, with 15 million; the general strike of Australian industrial workers in May 1969, with 1 million strikers, that is, one-half of the industrial proletariat of the country; the all-national strikes in Italy in February 1969 (18 million strikers), and on Nov. 19, 1969 (20 million); the general strike of dock workers in Great Britain in July 1970, which compelled the government to introduce a state of emergency in the country; and the general strike of English miners in January-February 1972, with approximately 300,000 participants.
A number of traditional forms of struggle have been developed further and have become more widespread. These include the rotating (“checkerboard”) strikes, which are short consecutive work stoppages in each section of a shop leading to the disorganization of work in the shop as a whole, and “reverse strikes,” in which unemployed workers begin some kind of collective work of social importance on their own initiative and then demand that the municipality pay them for their labor and guarantee them work on the construction that has been started in order to complete it. Other forms of struggle include work stoppages, in which the workers completely stop work but remain in the plant, and strikes accompanied by the occupation of the shop, as in France in May-June 1968, where approximately 300 enterprises were occupied as of May 20, or in Italy during the mass strike movement in 1969. There are also actions characterized by a work slowdown, in which the workers sharply reduce the tempo of work, and by work-to-rule, or strikes of diligence, in which the workers so strictly and formally observe all the rules and regulations that the tempo of work is slowed down. Another form is the walkout, in which the workers do not inform the administration in advance. Solidarity strikes, in support of the striking workers of other enterprises, regions, branches of the economy, or countries, and wildcat strikes, which are not approved or may even be forbidden by the trade union organization (the strike of 140,000 Ruhr workers in Germany in September 1969 and the strikes in Great Britain in 1969), are increasing in importance.
The internationalization of the demands in the strike struggle against the cosmopolitan trusts is manifested in many regions of the capitalist world, for example, in the countries of the Common Market. A new form of struggle arose in Japan in 1955, the so-called spring offensive of workers, in which approximately 10 million workers take part every year, and in France, in the “national days of struggle.” These actions, embracing the most varied elements of the population, take place under unified slogans and are distinguished by a variety of mass activities, including strikes, meetings, and demonstrations.
In the strike movement of the 1960’s, the striving of the membership of unions led by socialists and of unions belonging to the World Confederation of Labor (known as the International Federation of Christian Trade Unions until October 1968) for joint action with Communists was clearly revealed. The inclination toward unity of action has been shown in a particularly graphic manner in the struggle of the French and Italian workers, for example in the all-national strike in France in May-June 1968 and in the all-national strikes in Italy in 1968–70. The tendencies toward the unity of anti-imperialist forces in the strike struggle are also evident in Japan (the days of united action against aggression in Vietnam) and in Latin America (Chile, Uruguay, Peru, Costa Rica, and Venezuela).
The right-wing reformist trade union leaders and the right-wing leadership of the social democracy (for example, in the Federal Republic of Germany, Austria, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway) attempt to hold their parties and unions to positions that reject the class struggle against capitalism in favor of class collaboration. The Communists, organizing and supporting the class actions of the workers for the satisfaction of their social and economic demands, conduct a struggle to overcome the split in the trade union movement and to achieve unity of action with the broad masses of youth, women, and Catholic elements among the workers. Communists see in strikes an efficient method of uniting the workers in the struggle for their social and economic rights, national independence, democracy and socialism, and for peace throughout the world.
The bourgeoisie conducts a stubborn struggle against strikes, trampling upon democratic rights and freedoms and applying open force, police methods, and antilabor legislation. Examples of antistrike legislation in the postwar period are the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 in the USA (and the 1970 amendments to it) and laws prohibiting strikes at state institutions and state services, as in Japan. Employers resort to lockouts and the compiling of blacklists of worker-activists and also use criminal methods of reprisal against strikers and their leaders. As in the past, police, government troops, strikebreakers, and special armed detachments are widely used against strikers. Under fascist-like dictatorships, participation in strikes is a criminal offense. At the same time, in the conditions of the changing relationship of forces on the world arena to the advantage of socialism and the general leftward movement of the masses, the employers not infrequently are compelled to agree to partial and sometimes complete satisfaction of strikers’ demands.
The ideologists of imperialism try in every possible way to discredit strikes, in order to remove from the hands of the working class this important means of defending the vital interests of workers. Numerous bourgeois and reformist theories of labor and social relations in the capitalist world, rejecting the Marxist theory of the class struggle and the existence of antagonistic contradictions between employers and employees, attempt to reduce these relationships to ones of collaboration in the name of “mutual benefit” and conceal the class basis of productive relations under capitalism. The same aim is pursued by the theories of “social unionism,” “industrial democracy,” “human relations,” “the monopoly powers of trade unions,” and ‘proletarianization.” The ideologists of imperialism consistently advance the idea of the “fading” of the class struggle under capitalism; of the “random” and “atypical” character of acute class conflicts in conditions of contemporary, so-called postindustrial (“neocapitalist”) society; of the transformation of the working class into the so-called middle class; and of inevitable “class collaboration” under capitalism in conditions of the supposed transformation of capitalist society into a society of “general welfare” and “equal opportunity” in the “new industrial society” and the “humanistic society of abundance.” These bourgeois and reformist theories assert that the state as the “bearer of authority” has been replaced by the “social service state,” capable of eliminating all obstacles to the achievement of complete mutual understanding between labor and capital.
Some ideologists of imperialism declare that strikes, organized by “subversive elements,” are pathological and anachronistic, and even a plot against common sense, against “the freedoms and rights of employers as well as of the workers themselves.” Thus, the American economist N. Chamberlain urges not only the state organs but also “sensible” public opinion in the USA to oppose strikers and declare them the barbarians of society (N. Chamberlain, Social Responsibility and Strikes, New York, 1953, p. 178). The American economist A. Heron asserts that “strikes undermine the mutually beneficial collaboration between labor and capital” (A. Heron, No Sale, No Job, New York, 1954, p. 137). The American sociologist Ross declares: “The strike has outlived itself… . Only Communists are interested in instigating class conflicts” (The Natural History of the Strikes, Berkeley, 1955, p. 36). The American economists P. Davis and G. Matchett, along with many other scholars of the Western world, consider that “relations between workers and employers are based on collaboration in the process of production and on the mutual agreement of the two sides concerning the corresponding distribution of the total product. Therefore, the strike struggle is not necessary” (P. Davis and G. Matchett, Modern Labor Economics, New York, 1954, p. 17; R. Aron,La Lutte des classes, Paris, 1964, p. 355).
The developing strike struggle inexorably refutes all kinds of theories and conceptions aimed at discrediting workers’ strikes and proves that Marx’ conclusions about the class antagonism in capitalist society is not only still valid but is continually being confirmed: “Capital is a concentrated social force, while the worker disposes only of his labor power. Consequently, an agreement between capital and labor can never be concluded on a just basis” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 16, p. 200).
REFERENCESEngels, F. “Polozhenie rabochego klassa v Anglii.” In K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 2.
Lenin, V. I. “O stachkakh.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 4.
Lenin, V. I. “O statistike stachek v Rossii.” Ibid., vol. 19.
Lenin, V. I. “Ekonomicheskaia i politicheskaia stachka.”/6/d., vol. 21.
Lenin, V. I. “Stachechnaia bor’ba i zarabotnaia plata.” Ibid., vol. 22.
Lenin, V. I. “Razvitie revoliutsionnoi stachki i ulichnykh demonstratsii.” Ibid.
Plekhanov, G. \.Soch., vol. 3. Moscow-Leningrad, 1928.
Luxemburg, R. Vseobshchaia zabastovka i nemetskaia sotsialdemokratiia. Petrograd, 1919. (Translated from German.)
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Lozovskii, A. Stachka kak boi, 2nd ed. Moscow-Leningrad, 1931.
Borko, lu. “Stachki—boevoe oruzhie proletariata.” Kommunist, 1965, no. 18.
a direct combat action against an enemy, conducted with weapons and troops with the objective of destroying enemy forces and achieving a strategic, operational, or tactical goal. Strikes may be classified as ground or naval strikes, missile strikes, air strikes (with bombing or bombing and ground attack), artillery strikes, torpedo strikes, or, where nuclear weapons are used, nuclear or nuclear missile strikes.
All the forces participating in a mission coordinate their actions with regard to the time and order of delivery of a strike in order to capitalize on the results of a battle. Ground or naval forces performing a combat mission may deliver strikes on several axes. The axis that is judged decisive for destroying the enemy and reaching the area of the final objective of the battle or operation is the main strike axis. A decisive superiority in manpower and weapons sufficient to ensure the enemy’s defeat is created on the axis of the main strike, and an assault group of ground or naval forces is formed to deliver the main strike. The axes of the main strike and subsidiary strikes may change in the course of a battle or operation.
Depending on the nature of enemy actions and the time of delivery, strike actions may be classified as retaliatory strikes, surprise counterblows, or preventive attacks. Depending on the battle plan and method of conduct, strikes may be used to divide or scatter enemy forces; concentric strikes are delivered on converging axes. Demonstration attacks and various types of diversionary strikes may be carried out to accomplish specific operational or tactical objectives.
strike plate, strike, striking plate
ii. Impacting aircraft with foreign objects– specifically birds, as in bird strikes.
iii. Tactical close-air support and interdiction attacks.