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The dismal science
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Economic Systems

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Major Concepts
The Worldly Philosophers

A strike is an organized act of withdrawal of labor by a particular workforce.

Hell no we won't go![edit]

Strikes are usually called to force business owners, managers, or overseeing government entities to concede to, or at least agree to discuss and work out agreeable terms through debate or arbitration, the demands of employees in regards to:

  • Wages
  • Working hours
  • Benefits (usually extrinsic benefits, such as health insurance, holidays, and pensions)
  • Hiring standards
  • Safety standards
  • Working conditions

Strikes are usually organized by the collective workforce for the business or agency, which may or may not be in the form of a labor union. Depending on the labor union, strikers can be paid a replacement stipend from funds that the union keeps in reserve (usually for the sole purpose of paying strikers, funded by union dues taken from the workers' wages).

A strike can be as simple as everyone staying home, but more often than not strikers will form a picket line, or a form of demonstration or protest. Strikers will construct signs addressing their concerns and march near the business, shouting ad hoc slogans or songs, stopping traffic, etc., in an effort to raise awareness for their cause to the general public.[note 1]

Recovery of labor[edit]

Depending on the industry, employers sometimes hire temporary workers to replace the lost person-hours. Strikers derisively call these workers scabs and sometimes will prevent them from crossing the picket line, which can lead to physical altercations.

Because of the potential for economic disruption, the right to strike is subject to legal limits in most countries; however, it is rarely fully illegal.[1] Often if emergency services are striking, they only suspend routine or non-essential activity so as not to put the public at direct risk.

Ending a strike[edit]

Strikes are usually completed once employers and employees meet an agreement (or, at the very least, a compromise) through discussion or arbitration. Usually, this comes in the form of a contract, either with the labor union or agreed upon by individual employees. Sometimes employees will agree to end a strike while arbitration is in process — usually with the understanding that if no agreement is met, the strike will recommence. Government employees who are striking, on the other hand, often find themselves put back to work by legislation, rather than any honest negotiation.

In rare instances, a strike can result in a business closing down, and the striking workers are out of a job. Wal-Mart has been known to eliminate portions of its business rather than dealing with unions; for example, when workers at a Wal-Mart in Quebec unionized, Wal-Mart closed the store altogether.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. In the United States, however, employees of the federal government are barred by law from striking; this law was not widely enforced until the PATCOWikipedia strike of 1981, when Ronald Reagan fired every air traffic controller in the U.S.
  2. No Union Please, We're Wal-Mart


  1. This also has the practical effect of making it difficult for the targeted business to simply hire new employees to replace the strikers by discouraging and physically impeding new applicants.