Guide to strikes and trade unions

Joe looks at the history of striking

A strike is when a group of workers agree to stop working.

They do this when they want to protest against something they think is unfair where they work.

Strikes sometimes happen because workers want to force politicians or company bosses to listen to what they want.

Why do workers go on strike?

Workers go on strike for different reasons:

  • to get improvements where they work
  • for more money
  • for shorter working days
  • to stop their wages going down
  • because they think their company has been unfair

What are wildcat strikes?

These are sudden, unofficial strikes. They're not organised by a trade union, which are associations of workers that want to make things better in their workplace.

Wildcat action can start because of what seems to be a small problem, like the length of a tea break or the treatment of one worker.

They might start small but if workers are angry with their bosses, the strikes can spread fast and cause a lot of problems.

What are pickets?

Pickets are groups of workers who are on strike that stand at the entrance to where they work.

The purpose of picketing is:

  • to stop workers going to work - or persuade them not to
  • to tell the public about the strike
  • to persuade workers to take their union's side

Famous strikes in UK history

  • The General Strike, 1926

This lasted for nine days during which nearly all of the UK ground to a halt. It was the first of its kind and held to support coal miners, who were having their wages cut and working hours increased. Huge numbers of bus, rail, printing, gas and electricity, building, iron, steel, chemicals and coal workers refused to go to work.

  • The Winter of Discontent, 1978-79

In the winter of 1978-79 there were widespread strikes because the government decided not to raise workers' pay. Lorry drivers, train drivers, doctors, rubbish collectors and even gravediggers were among professions who took part.

  • The Miners' Strike, 1984-85

This was a long and bitter strike held because coal pits were being shut down and workers were losing their jobs. It lasted for almost a year.

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