What Have Strikes Achieved? | History Today


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‘Una huelga de obreros en Vizcaya (Workers’ strike in Biscay)’, Vicente Cutanda, 1892. Museo del Prado/WikiCommons.

‘In Aristophanes’ LysistrataGreek women unite in sex-strike

Lynette Mitchell, Professor in Greek History and Politics at the University of Exeter

‘Strike action’ – the withdrawal of labor as a form of protest – was known in the ancient world. The Greeks, however, did not generally form themselves into professional associations, at least not before the 3rd century BCE, when associations of ‘musicians of Dionysus’ were formed along with an increase in the number of festivals.

However, this did not mean that the Greeks were oblivious to the importance of returning to labor. epic poem Iliad Begins with Achilles – the best of Greek fighters – withdrawing from battle against the Trojans because he has been deprived of his war-prize, the concubine Briseis.

Backing up his skills as a fighter in battle was an important bargaining tool. In the early 4th century BC, a Greek army of ten thousand, which had been employed by Cyrus the Younger in the war against his brother, Artaxerxes II, threatened to desert the Persian prince unless he reduced his pay to Not raised to the level. the danger of engaging the ‘King of Kings’ in battle (they were originally employed on another pretext and at a different pay scale). In 326 BC, when Alexander the Great’s troops reached the Hyphasis River in the Hindu Kush, they refused to cross it and enter north India further east, thus forcing Alexander to pursue his immense glory. Had to happen The author Arrian says that this was his only defeat.

War brought glory, but it also brought sorrow. in the comedy of Aristophanes LysistrataCreated in 411 BC, the women of Greece band together in a sex-strike to force their husbands to give up their wars with each other. Although the women struggle to maintain discipline among their own ranks (some of the play’s most comical scenes describe the women being driven away from the Acropolis, which has been occupied by the strikers), wit and determination A woman named Lysistrata is asked to mediate between the Greek cities to end the strike; She presents the warring men with a beautiful girl, Sulah, and the play ends with the Spartans and Athenians remembering the wars they fought together against the Persians. Peace is restored.

‘Low pay became common during the reign of Ramesses III’

Dan Potter, Assistant Curator of the Ancient Mediterranean Collection at the National Museum of Scotland

At the beginning of the 29th year of the reign of Ramesses III (c.1153 BC), the builders of the royal tombs at Deir el-Medina became concerned about the payment of their wages. Workers were paid in sacks of barley and wheat, which was not only their family’s food, but also currency. Late deliveries and short payments became common, requiring a scribe to keep detailed records of the amount due. Supply issues were linked to the agricultural calendar, but the persistent problems of this period suggest that this too was a failure of the state. The initial grievance of the workers was resolved but the reasons were not resolved. With the approval of their ‘captains’ (a three-member leadership group), the activists staged eight days of action; They passed through the ‘walls’ of their secluded village and into the nearby royal temples with cries of ‘We are hungry!’ They picketed several temples, but the authorities were unable or unwilling to help. At the end of the week he was forced to pay for a month’s grain by lighting a torch.

In the months that followed, he ‘crossed the walls’ several times. Eventually, Tu, the recently promoted vizier, wrote to him explaining that the royal granaries were empty. He apologized with a politician’s answer for the ages: ‘It wasn’t because there was nothing to bring you that I didn’t come.’ In fact, To probably was engaged in the king’s heb-sed (royal jubilee) in the deltaic capital. To appease the striking workers, giving half the wages at once. After this humiliating delivery, the enraged Chief Workman Khons proposed a door-to-door campaign against the local authorities, which was stopped only by his fellow captain Amunkhat, the scribe who had recorded much of the attacks to us.

Even after bulk reparations were paid at the start of the 30 years, inconsistent payments resulted in more industrial action in the years to come. The strikes were signs of increasing regional instability, as Wasset (Luxor) experienced food shortages, inflation, incursions from nomadic tribes, tomb looting and more downing of tools. The workers’ village was partially abandoned after about 70 years.

‘Success depends on public response and likelihood of favorable government intervention’

Alistair Reid, Fellow of Girton College, Cambridge

Word strike Usually brings to mind a mass strike that lasts for a long time and completely shuts down an industry, such as the British coal miners’ strike in the 1920s and 1970s. These types of disputes have rarely achieved anything positive: they are costly to the income of strikers and their families, and if their unions can provide some support to the strikers, it will drain the organization of money. The tension has often led to divisions within the union and friction with other organizations.

Therefore, it is worth noting that in recent years a large number of trade unions calling their members on strike have focused on limited days of action rather than indefinite strike.

Sometimes the general public sympathizes with the strikers. This was the case during the London Dock Strike of 1889. However, when disruption affected public services, as happened in the ‘Winter of Discontent’ in 1978–79, strikers became very unpopular. Often, when such strike action achieved positive results for trade unions, it was when the government had reason to intervene on their behalf: during World War I, for example, when maintaining military production. were required.

Mass withdrawal of workers is not the only form of strike action seen in the past. Highly skilled unions such as engineers and printers developed a strategy known as the ‘extension strike’, during which they used their unemployment funds to support members in leaving blacklisted firms and thus effectively From targeted one employer at a time. Another possibility is the opposite of a strike – a ‘work in’ – as happened at the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders in 1971, when a significant part of the workforce refused to accept the closure of the yards and were critical of their positive attitude. gained public support. In general, a mass strike is a dangerous weapon that can easily backfire: success depends on public response and the likelihood of favorable government intervention.

‘There was a clear winner: the Chinese Communist Party’

Elizabeth Forster, Lecturer in Chinese History at the University of Southampton

Gu Zhenghong was shot dead by a foreman on 15 May 1925, starting China’s anti-imperialist May 30 Movement. Gu was a worker on strike at a textile mill in Shanghai. The mill was owned by the Japanese, Japan being among the countries that owned semi-colonial China. Angered by Gu’s death – and the imperialism behind it – students and workers demonstrated in Shanghai’s overseas settlement on 30 May. At one point British police opened fire, killing more than ten protesters. In response, a general strike was called by unions of workers, students and merchants, the Shanghai General Chamber of Commerce, as well as leaders of the Nationalist Party (GMD) and the Chinese Communist Party.

Among the strikers were students, businessmen and workers from various walks of life, such as boatmen, wharf workers, employees of phone companies, power plants, buses and trams. Not all sectors participated and some individuals broke the strike, some of whom were kidnapped by their unions. Strikes were accompanied by boycotts of foreign goods and sometimes violent clashes between the strikers and the authorities.

The demands were wide-ranging and were not limited to work-related issues, but also included anti-imperialist goals, such as the end of extraterritoriality. By August, enthusiasm for the strikes had waned. The merchants were tired of their economic losses. Due to the loss of strike pay, some workers started revolting against their union. So the strike organizers had to settle the industrial (and political) dispute.

Contemporaries were unsure if the strikes had achieved their goal. The demands of the strike were reduced and not all were met. Many new unions were founded, but some were also shut down by the authorities, and organizers of the labor movement went underground or faced arrest and execution. But there was one clear winner: the Chinese Communist Party. If workers had previously distrusted communists as hairy, poorly dressed ‘extremists’, the party was now accepted as the leader of workers. Imperialism in China would end, but not until after World War II and an era of global disintegration.