The Right to Strike

by Manfred Davidmann


Slavery, Compulsion and Freedom: The Right to Withdraw One's Labour
The Right to Strike: What it Includes and What it Implies.
Related Topics
The Right to Know
Index Linking
Conditions of Employment
Participation in Decision-taking (Upward Flow of Authority)
Notes <..> and References {..}

Relevant Current and Associated Works

Relevant Subject Index Pages and Site Overview


Discusses and defines the right to strike, the extent to which people can strike and what this implies.

Also discussed are aspects of current problems such as part-time workers and home working, Works Councils, uses and misuses of linking pay to a cost-of-living index, participation in decision-taking, upward redistribution of income and wealth.


The slave has to work whether he likes it or not. Slavery denies to the enslaved their basic human rights. The slave is treated by the master like an unfeeling production unit, is kept and maintained while productive.

The master in effect owns and controls the slave through what he can force the slave to do by means of the laws of the land <1> and by force of economic necessity.

The free man may withdraw his labour. He enters into a voluntary agreement with someone else in which he agrees to carry out some specified work in return for a specified amount of pay. If there is disagreement between them he may freely withdraw his labour. This is a most essential right, the right of every citizen, of every worker, to associate with others and withdraw his labour, to go on strike.

People are enslaved when they are forced to work through need, have to work to survive. They are enslaved to the extent to which they are forced to accept mere survival existence in return for the work they do. They are free to the extent to which they are able to choose freely between one employer and another, to the extent to which they are backed by a comprehensive system of social security and services if falling on difficult times.

A workforce which cannot withdraw its labour at will is either oppressed or enslaved. A free people have the right to strike and can exercise this right, supporting those who exercise it.

The extent to which the right to strike is acknowledged and supported by a government's enacted legislation states clearly the extent to which its political philosophy and policies are authoritarian, class-biased and oppressive and the extent to which the working population can be subjected to oppression and exploitation through need.

Withdrawing the right to strike, for example, enables owners and directors to cut the wages of large sections of the working population.

There is a scale of management and government which ranges from 'fully authoritarian' at one end to 'fully participative' at the other <2>. One can place on this scale any system of running a company or of governing a country. This is done by considering to what extent decisions are being made at the various levels or whether people merely follow orders, to what extent people are free to withdraw their labour, are free to strike, to what extent authority is centred at the top, or where the balance of power lies between management and worker. The position where an organisation is placed thus depends on the balance of authority between ruler and ruled, between owner and worker, between the establishment and the population. {1}

And so the right to strike, and the extent to which people can strike, are fundamental freedoms which distinguish a participative government or management from an authoritarian one.

It is a right which is recognised in international treaties, including the European Union's Social Charter. The United Nation's Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights also enshrines the right to strike.

In most European countries the right to strike is enshrined in, and protected by, a written constitution. The contract of employment of those who strike is considered suspended for the duration of the strike. It is not considered to have been broken.

Exceptions are the UK and Ireland.

The UK has no written constitution and the right to strike is not protected. Dependent on which side the government of the day represents, the law is changed to favour either owners and directors or else the working population. Conservative governments, for example, in power since 1979, had by 1996 passed something like eight Acts of Parliament reducing, indeed removing, basic rights of the working population.

Under this legislation any striker in the UK is considered to have broken his contract of employment as all those on strike may be sacked together without compensation. They may be sacked selectively when the strike is 'unofficial'. The lack of protection applies regardless of the cause of the strike. So where an employer deliberately engineers a dispute it is the workforce which may be in breach of contract. The workforce is then exposed to dismissal without compensation, may lose redundancy payments, may be disqualified from unemployment benefit, and all without remedy for unfair dismissal.

In the western industrialised world the UK, this wealthy country which is self-sufficient in oil, has become poverty-stricken, its economy in a mess. The ruling establishment apparently prefers to derive its wealth and profit from lowering the wages, standard of living and quality of life of the population. Instead of leading the population in the economic struggle against foreign world-wide competition and sharing the spoils in fair and equitable manner with them.

Germany did the opposite for many years, including worker participation in decision-taking, and was extremely successful while so doing, with its establishment enjoying an almost unequalled wealth and lifestyle as a result. But Germany is now losing ground following later policy changes for the worse.

The constitutions of France, Germany, Italy and Spain, to mention a few, protect the right to strike of the working population. The contract of employment is only suspended, not broken, during a strike.

With the United States it is more difficult to determine to what extent authority is centred at the top and to what extent it is balanced by the authority of the working population exercising their power through the withdrawal of their labour. The Taft-Hartley Act limits the right to strike, seemingly shifting responsibility for declaring a strike from the factory floor to the union head office. But an employer may not dismiss a striking employee during a lawful strike and, if he does so, must reinstate him. {1}

It would seem that Canadians also may not be dismissed while striking and that an employer may not employ others to do the work normally done by those who are on strike.


The right to strike consists of the right to withdraw one's labour. It includes the associated rights to free association, to take supporting and sympathy action, and to receive support against hardship while doing so. At workplaces, nationally, and multinationally <3>.


The right to strike includes the basic provision that the contract of employment is suspended for the duration of the strike, that a striker has not broken his contract of employment by striking, that those on strike may not be penalised for striking.

The right to strike needs to be protected by a written, secure and enforceable constitution.

The right also includes workplace, national and multinational <3> collective action.

The right to strike is a basic human right and it would seem that other legislation and rules affecting the working population and trade union rights should only be enacted after a clear mandate has been received by secret, universal and fair referendum, its wording having been approved or written by the concerned parties.


The right to free association in workplaces, nationally and multinationally, applies to employees and employers and is used extensively by employers. It enables the working population freely to associate with each other without hindrance to balance the influence and power of owners and employers, of their associations and of multinationals.

It includes the right for the workforce to decide who represents them in the workplace, without any kind of input, interference or compulsion from or by owners or employers. Representation in the workplace should be decided by independent and secret ballot of employees. Whether or not a union declares a strike should equally be decided by an independent secret ballot of those who would be striking.


Included are
The right to picket,
to secondary picketing,
to take supporting action,
and to take sympathy action,
at workplaces, nationally and multinationally.

Included is also the right to free access to the media to enable union and strikers to state their case to those who may be affected by the dispute or strike.

The aim is to balance out the opinion-forming influence of owners and their establishment so as to further the economic and social interests of the working population.



All relevant information affecting work and pay of any kind has to be made available free of charge to those who wish to know.

Employers should be legally required to make available all such information in the same way to their employees and to their employees' unions. If the employer has good reason for wishing to keep particular items of information confidential, they still have to be disclosed but only to the elected representatives of the employees.

Information such as relevant statistics should be prepared and made available by a civil service body independent of government and directly responsible to Parliament or its equivalent, made available free to all concerned.


Linking of pay to a cost of living index is intended to take the heat out of employer and employee pay bargaining, to reduce confrontation and strife, to eliminate having to battle just to maintain one's place. It is most commonly applied to essential public services such as medical, fire, police, teaching, government.

Pay is reviewed at intervals and is increased according to changes in the index. If the index has increased by 2 per cent say, then pay is increased by 2 per cent. Another way of linking is to increase pay by a given percentage whenever the index has increased by that percentage.

But the cost of living index should reliably reflect the cost of living of the working population and be protected against politically motivated change which favours one side or the other.

After index linking, pay bargaining can concentrate on the main issue, namely on how to share out the increased value created by the joint effort of both sides. In other words, how to adjust pay of all kinds in relation to the enterprise's performance.

Linking of pay of any kind <5> to a cost of living index is also intended to ensure that the burden of higher prices due to inflation is carried equally by all, that no one section gains at the expense of others, that inflation is not used to redistribute income and wealth from the bottom to the top.

But as long as a single percentage increase is applied to low as well as high incomes, income and wealth is being transferred from the bottom to the top, from the poor to the rich. 5 per cent of £10,000 is £500, but 5 per cent of £500,000 is £25,000.

At the lower end, nothing is gained. The whole of the £500 increase has already been absorbed by the higher prices which caused the cost-of-living index to increase.

By comparison one can argue that at the upper end £24,500 (that is, 25,000 - 500) is spare excess luxury income and wealth which is being transferred from poor to rich.

So one has to ensure that indexing achieves its purpose and that inflation is not used to redistribute income and wealth from the bottom to the top. This means that percentage increases at the upper levels are applied only to the actual bare cost of living at the average standard of living.

Illustrating this by the abovementioned example, say the average cost of living is £10,000. The maximum increase which can then be taken by upper levels is 5 per cent of this amount, a maximum of £500.


Related to the right to strike is job security, meaning by this protection against unfair dismissal and compensation for redundancy.

There should be protection against unfair dismissal after no more than six months continuous full-time employment.

Part-time workers and homeworkers (including home-based work with computer and telephone) need to be given the same protection and rights given to full-time workers.

When using part-time workers and homeworkers, the employer saves office overheads but needs to be made responsible for increased costs of the homeworker, for holiday pay, for pension and social security contributions.


Imposed decisions are decisions taken by people who tell others (workforce, employees, party members, population) what 'is good for them' to do, what they have to do.

Take the bitter struggle in 1985/86 in the UK between the community-owned Coal Board and its workforce, the miners. The miners were defeated after about twelve months by the management of this community-owned coal-mining industry. The miners opposed the unilateral closure by the Coal Board of most of the UK pits. That is, they opposed the closing of pits without first consulting its employees and the local community.

'Consultation' in 'Works Councils' <4> amounts to no more than asking for an opinion. A legal requirement for an enterprise to consult its employees in a Works Council would seem to amount to a requirement to inform its employees of policies being considered which may affect the employees and for asking the employees' opinion about them. This seems a step forward but does not amount to participation in decision-taking.

It would be different if the Works Council were the policy-setting body for the enterprise.

'Style of Management' {1} discusses at some length the upward flow of authority in relation to decision-taking. Participation in decision-taking takes place when those affected by a decision themselves take the decision. Decisions about people need to be made by those concerned.

Participation in decision-taking means representation in boardrooms and wherever decisions are taken, by elected representatives who are elected by those affected by the decisions being taken. It also means open decision-taking and freely available access to media.

The role of those at the top has to be to carry out the decisions taken and the policies set by those they represent, and to be quickly held accountable to them for doing so.



<1>     By means of the laws of the land which are master-made or which may be called religious while master-serving.

An earlier report {1} considered and defined the right to strike in relation to style of management, giving its source and authority. It looked at the extent to which people are allowed to strike, and at the extent to which they are able to strike, and what this indicates, for different countries.

Employees participate when they agree to allow themselves to be organised by an employer, and organisation which is based on consent of those being organised is participative.


On the one hand we have multinational operations by multinational enterprises.

On the other hand we should have multinational co-operation, organisation, supporting and sympathy action by employees.

(Terms such as 'international', 'trans-border' or 'cross-border' are sometimes used instead of 'multinational'.)


A Works Council is a group of employees, half of whom are generally elected by the employees from among themselves. The other half is generally appointed by the management from supervisors and managers, thus representing the interests of owners and directors. It would be usual for say two employees to be elected and two to be appointed, for each department or work unit. The casting vote or votes are generally reserved for the Chairman who is appointed by management.

The Works Council meets at intervals to discuss matters of interest to both employers and employees.

It soon becomes apparent to employees that the Works Council is a talking shop which may suggest action but which takes no decisions. Interest is lost and discussions soon tend to be about matters such as the quality of toilet paper, canteen food (a favourite topic) or the allocation of parking spaces. Instead of discussing employment policies, job security, profitability, capital investment, planned developments, and so on.

<5>   Including pensions and social security benefits.


{1} Style of Management and Leadership
Manfred Davidmann

Relevant Current and Associated Works

A list of other relevant current and associated reports by Manfred Davidmann:
Title   Description
Style of Management and Leadership     Major review and analysis of the style of management and its effect on management effectiveness, decision taking and standard of living. Measures of style of management and government. Overcoming problems of size.
Role of Managers Under Different Styles of Management     Short summary of the role of managers under authoritarian and participative styles of management. Also covers decision making and the basic characteristics of each style.
Directing and Managing Change     How to plan ahead, find best strategies, decide and implement, agree targets and objectives, monitor and control progress, evaluate performance, carry out appraisal and target-setting interviews. Describes proved, practical and effective techniques.
Motivation Summary   Reviews and summarises past work in Motivation. Provides a clear definition of 'motivation', of the factors which motivate and of what people are striving to achieve.
The Will to Work: What People Struggle to Achieve   Major review, analysis and report about motivation and motivating. Covers remuneration and job satisfaction as well as the factors which motivate. Develops a clear definition of 'motivation'. Lists what people are striving and struggling to achieve, and progress made, in corporations, communities, countries.
Work and Pay   Major review and analysis of work and pay in relation to employer, employee and community. Provides the underlying knowledge and understanding for scientific determination and prediction of rates of pay, remuneration and differentials, of National Remuneration Scales and of the National Remuneration Pattern of pay and differentials.
Work and Pay: Summary   Concise summary review of whole subject of work and pay, in clear language. Covers pay, incomes and differentials and the interests and requirements of owners and employers, of the individual and his family, and of the community.
Exporting and Importing of Employment and Unemployment   Discusses exporting and importing of employment and unemployment, underlying principles, effect of trade, how to reduce unemployment, social costs of unemployment, community objectives, support for enterprises, socially irresponsible enterprise behaviour.
Transfer Pricing and Taxation   One of the most controversial operations of multinationals, transfer pricing, is clearly described and defined. An easily-followed illustration shows how transfer pricing can be used by multinationals to maximise their profits by tax avoidance and by obtaining tax rebates. Also discussed is the effect of transfer pricing on the tax burden carried by other tax payers.
Inflation, Balance of Payments and Currency Exchange Rates     Reviews the relationships, how inflation affects currency exchange rates and trade, the effect of changing interest rates on share prices and pensions. Discusses multinational operations such as transfer pricing, inflation's burdens and worldwide inequality.
Organising   Comprehensive review. Outstanding is the section on functional relationships. Shows how to improve co-ordination, teamwork and co-operation. Discusses the role and responsibilities of managers in different circumstances.
Social Responsibility, Profits and Social Accountability   Incidents, disasters and catastrophes are here put together as individual case studies and reviewed as a whole. We are facing a sequence of events which are increasing in frequency, severity and extent. There are sections about what can be done about this, on community aims and community leadership, on the world-wide struggle for social accountability.
Social Responsibility and Accountability: Summary   Outlines basic causes of socially irresponsible behaviour and ways of solving the problem. Statement of aims. Public demonstrations and protests as essential survival mechanisms. Whistle-blowing. Worldwide struggle to achieve social accountability.
Co-operatives and Co-operation: Causes of Failure, Guidelines for Success   Based on eight studies of co-operatives and mutual societies, the report's conclusions and recommendations cover fundamental and practical problems of co-ops and mutual societies, of members, of direction, of management and control. There are extensive sections on Style of Management, decision-taking, management motivation and performance, on General Management principles and their application in practice.
Using Words to Communicate Effectively   Shows how to communicate more effectively, covering aspects of thinking, writing, speaking and listening as well as formal and informal communications. Consists of guidelines found useful by university students and practising middle and senior managers.
Community and Public Ownership   This report objectively evaluates community ownership and reviews the reasons both for nationalising and for privatising. Performance, control and accountability of community-owned enterprises and industries are discussed. Points made are illustrated by a number of striking case-studies.
Ownership and Limited Liability   Discusses different types of enterprises and the extent to which owners are responsible for repaying the debts of their enterprise. Also discussed are disadvantages, difficulties and abuses associated with the system of Limited Liability, and their implications for customers, suppliers and employees.
Ownership and Deciding Policy: Companies, Shareholders, Directors and Community   A short statement which describes the system by which a company's majority shareholders decide policy and control the company.
Creating, Patenting and Marketing of New Forms of Life     Evaluates problems in genetic manipulation, and consequences of private ownership of new life-forms by multinationals. Lists conclusions and recommendations about man-made forms of life, their ownership and patenting, about improving the trend of events.
Corrupted Economics and Misleading Experts   Shows how 'Economics' is used to misinform and mislead the general public. Clearly states underlying considerations of specific important economic relationships and comments on misleading political interpretations and on role of independent experts.
Reorganising the National Health Service:
An Evaluation of the Griffiths Report
  1984 report which has become a classic study of the application and effect of General Management principles and of ignoring them.

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Relevant Subject Index Pages and Site Overview

The Site Overview page has links to all individual Subject Index Pages which between them list the works by Manfred Davidmann which are available on the Internet, with short descriptions and links for downloading.

To see the Site Overview page, click Overview

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Copyright    ©    1996    Manfred Davidmann
All rights reserved worldwide.

01/03/96 Completed
15/04/96 To Website
02/06/02 Added 'Relevant Current and Associated Works'

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