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We need more, not fewer, strikes

By Chris White - posted Tuesday, 1 November 2011


I urge debate on reviving the strike.

Joe Burns has a stimulating analysis and conclusion in his book ‘Reviving the Strike: How Working People Can Regain Power and Transform America.’

Australia’s labour relations system differs historically and institutionally from the US, but working people experience the same repression of strikes and the decline of the strike.

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Our corporate and state rulers dominate the labour law system, and as in the US, deny workers and their unions any effective right to strike.

PM Gillard’s regime the ‘Fair Work Act’ retains the ‘Work Choices’ excessive legalistic penalising of strikes and the Building Industry Act (2005) with the ABCC severely threatens and penalises building and construction workers organising. (See arguments on my blog http://chriswhiteonline.org and put in search the right to strike.)

After reading this book, the same the arguments apply - that unions have to revive the strike weapon.

As in the US, with our near disappearance of strike struggle, the task is how this revival is to be done - a serious challenge for Australian unionists in this era of capitalist instability, corporate attack, a likely Abbott government and the Occupy Wall Street movements.

Burns argues that the US working class became more powerful by winning strikes.

“By wielding the threat of a powerful, production halting strike, trade unionists forged a better way of life for millions of working class Americans during the roughly fifty year period from 1930 though 1980. …The strike is by far the most important source of union power…Collective bargaining made little sense unless it was backed by the threat of a strike that halted production.”

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Citing US labour relations scholars, union strike struggles improved workers’ lives.

Burns relates the history of union leader militancy, solidarity and secondary boycott strikes, industry-wide and pattern bargaining strikes, mass pickets to stop ‘replacement workers’, sit-down strikes and occupations - all crippling economically the corporations and forcing management to negotiate until union demands are met.

Union militancy in the 1930s organised strikes in response to the serious class war from management. Unions defeated employer solidarity and the law. Radical actions ensured wage increases and standardisation and with some worker control against management authoritarianism.

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About the Author

Chris White, a union blogger, was formerly the Secretary of the United Trades and Labor Council of SA.

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