Strikes Research Paper

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This entry addresses the phenomenon known as a “strike.” It provides a brief introduction to the history and development of strikes in general.

Then, it describes the conceptual underpinnings and the sociological and ethical aspects of four different types of strikes: (1) general or “mass” strikes; (2) “capital” strikes; (3)“essential” strikes, which includes a section devoted to physician strikes; and (4) “hunger” strikes. This entry stresses the importance of understanding strikes and their related phenomena as specific incidences, each having its own unique biopsychosocial context, without which the process of ethical analysis cannot proceed. It discusses some of the ethical aspects of strikes in general and identifies those contextual features that are pertinent to assessing the ethical dimension in each type of strike. It concludes that (a) ethical analyses of strikes must be contextually thorough, (b) the ethical justification of particular strike actions will continue to undergo questioning and debate, and (c) while the right to strike is conditional because it must compete with various other conflicting rights, it is also necessary, for without it the ability to negotiate the boundaries of power relationships along the continuum between freedom and justice would be lost.


This entry purposely attempts to avoid the professional language – and baggage – of professional ethics in order to describe, with as little obfuscation as possible, the problematic ethical nature of the phenomena of strikes. It eschews the basic traditional theoretic divisions into deontological (i.e., duty-based or principlist) and teleological (i.e., consequence-based) ethics as too unhelpful and misleading, especially within such an abbreviated format. Because such artificial divisions tend to privilege either duty (or principles) over consequences or consequences over duty (or principles), some of the important ethical elements of the problematic nature of strikes can easily be over or underemphasized or even completely missed.

Thus, instead of prioritizing principles, duties, or consequences, this entry takes a more pragmatic, “all things considered” approach. Such an approach attempts to identify and weigh the value of such ethically laden concepts as duties, principles, and consequences, rights and responsibilities, and benefits and burdens as they unfold within the contextual relationships of specific strike situations. Moreover, it assumes not only that there is a fundamental interdependence between individuals but that this interdependence is a significant characteristic – not simply a defect – of persons. As a result the role that the benefits and burdens of all of those relevantly affected plays in ethical analysis is better captured and more fully appreciated.

History And Development: Background Of The Issue

Conceptually, the idea behind a strike action has ancient roots, despite its modern name. In The History of Trade Unionism (1894), Beatrice and Sidney Webb claim such actions to have occurred nearly 1500 years before the Common Era. They cite the Biblical account of Exodus 5:7, wherein Hebrew brickmakers were denied their usual allotment of straw by a Pharaoh who ordered them to continue to make bricks with straw they themselves had to gather. Many treat the subsequent flight of these brickmakers from the city as the first record of a “strike” action. However, it is equally arguable that it was, in fact, the second recorded instance of a “strike” action – the first one (denial of straw) being the equivalent of a “capital strike” action by the Pharaoh.

According to Egerton (1951), the first historically documented account of what amounted to a successful strike action by workers occurred in 1152 BCE under Pharaoh Ramses III in Egypt when artisans of the Royal Necropolis at Deir el-Medina ceased working because they had not been paid. Interestingly, here too, the focus has tended to be on the actions of the workers rather than the “capital” action of Ramses III (not paying his workers, which prompted their response).

In The Outline of History (1920), Wells notes that between the expulsion of the Roman kings (510 BCE) and the beginning of the first Punic War (264 BCE), plebeians sought and managed to win a greater share of governance through what we would recognize as several general strikes, twice actually marching out of Rome and threatening to establish a new city on the Tiber. And later (circa 100 BCE), the corruption of the powerful and pretentious collegia sodalicia (which were, essentially, trade associations who nominally adopted a deity so as to acquire greater economic and political clout) of Italy was met with protest actions equivalent to strikes – again, by an essentially politically abused and unrepresented populace.

It was not until the latter part of the eighteenth century that the word “strike” actually gained usage. According to the Webb and Webb (1894):

The Oxford Dictionary gives the 1st instance of its use as in 1768, when the Annual Register refers to the hatters having “struck” for a rise in wages. The derivation appears to be from the sailors’ term of “striking” the mast, thus bringing the movement to a stop.

In essence, the potential for strike actions (irrespective of what they might have been called in the past) has existed for as long as human interactions have been complex enough to develop power differentials perceived by some individuals’ party to the interactions to be unduly coercive, unjust, or unethical. The more complex human associations become, the more opportunity for such power differentials to develop. Certainly, recourse to today’s conception of a strike action has only increased since the beginning of the industrial revolution.

Conceptual Clarification/Definition

In its broadest, most general sense today, a strike is a collective form of protest toward an imposed condition or set of conditions generally felt by those striking as unduly coercive, unjust, or unfair. While most frequently associated with a collective refusal by those employed to work under conditions demanded by their employers, the word can just as readily appertain to collective refusals or demands by any given person or group of persons (public or private) and directed toward any other person or group of persons, institutions, or institutional policies (public or private, economic, political, or social).

Strikes arise for various reasons. These most commonly include disputes about wages and/or conditions of employment, jurisdictional disputes between unions, actions pursued for purely political goals (as in, e.g., a general strike or a hunger strike), or a combination of these (as in a “wildcat” strike, wherein a strike not authorized by the central body of a union may be directed by workers against any combination of employer, union leadership, and governmental institution or policies). While the underlying reasons that spark such protests may not be economic, the means almost always are. Hence, the vast majority of strike actions occur within – and affect or are affected by – the marketplace.

Less commonly appreciated, though of equal importance, is the distinction “capital” strike – capital being in quotes since today it is generally more narrowly construed to mean a corresponding action that can be taken by businesses. In this type of strike, those who own and/or control large amounts of wealth (financial capital) can, in effect, shut down the economy or manipulate governmental policy – whether by refusing to invest or reinvest in their infrastructure, by not hiring adequate workers, or by laying off existing workers.

The types of, reasons for, and frequencies of strikes, however, are never simply economic in nature; they are contingent upon a wide range of sociological factors including a country’s history and general mores and the function/dysfunction of its social, political, and economic systems (including the role of its trade unions). These sociological factors can be quite long standing, subtle, and indirect.

While today capital tends to be narrowly defined as amassed wealth in the form of money or other material assets, it actually encompasses a much broader understanding of the concept of capital (wealth). This broader conception of capital includes (though is not necessarily limited to) the following:

  1. Natural capital – the kind of wealth associated with natural resources
  2. Human capital – the inherited and acquired potential and capacities of unique individuals
  3. Social capital – that fragile and elusive store of trust, mutual understanding, reciprocity, cooperation, shared values, and socially held knowledge which individuals share (or are denied)

Certainly not least of these is labor – for what else could be the source of all financial capital or wealth but an individual’s human capital combined with natural capital (existing natural resources)? On this broader understanding of capital, the vast financial capital amassed by entrepreneurs today can be seen for what it is: derivative wealth or capital. While he might be accused of overstatement, Adam Smith declared in An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776):

Labor.. .is alone the ultimate and real standard by which the value of all commodities can at all times and places be estimated and compared. It is their real price; money is their nominal price only.

When individuals or groups of individuals are deprived of access to the full range of opportunities (including social capital) normally available for maximizing their potentials or pursuing their interests and goals, they suffer injury: they are diminished as persons by being deprived of the respect due free and equal members of society and denied power they might – if given equal opportunity – otherwise have acquired. When individuals are denied control over their own labor (their own, unique capital or wealth), they not only suffer these same injuries; in addition, they will have been treated merely as a means to accomplish someone else’s goals. Nine years after Smith’s declaration, Immanuel Kant (1785) derived this same means/goals (ends) corollary in his practical formulation of the categorical imperative.

Hence, the right to strike is recognized, at least pro forma, by nearly all governments of the world. Some governments, however, may require a series of clearly specified, good faith efforts to arrive at a mutually agreed upon settlement prior to the strike; some may forbid purely political strikes or strikes by certain groups – the more common examples being public employees and “essential” workers, including healthcare workers, especially physicians and nurses.

While the purpose of most strikes or threats of strikes – whether by workers, businesses, or employer/owners – is to inflict some type of economic cost for failing to meet certain demands of those striking, some strikes are much more akin to demonstrations or political protests. These are often the result of a general class consciousness or occur in conjunction with an act of conscientious objection. Therefore, when analyzing a strike’s ethical dimension, it is essential to understand not only the goals (tacit, explicit, and those merely claimed pro forma) of those striking and the means utilized; it is also essential to understand the complex social preconditions – especially political and economic – that prompt recourse to a strike action.

Ethical Dimension

Strike actions demonstrate a rich and complex ethical dimension. They spring from environmental and social conditions; they are chosen by individuals; and they are most frequently acted out collectively. Moreover, they result in changes that have ripple effects on the whole: individuals, collectives, the physical environment, social conditions, and the society and its institutions and policies. In other words, they reflect the constant, ineradicable tension between individuals and their relationships to one another, to their physical and social environments, to institutions, and to the society as a whole. Depending on the structure of a society, that tension will weigh more or less heavily on the individual.

Strikes have been variously justified as “the lesser of two evils,” as a moral right, as a legal right, as an act of self-defense, as a basic right, and as a collective right. At their finest, strikes are attempts to reset and, thereby, stabilize the continuum between freedom and justice. This continuum is understood here as the communal efforts required to maximize the development and flourishing of individuals which, in turn, are necessary to secure the flourishing of community. In bio psychosocial terms, this resetting and stabilization could be thought of as a homeostatic biofeedback mechanism; in logical terms, it could be seen not as a tight, vicious circle but as a big, virtuous – albeit sometimes messy – one.

Unfortunately, even when goals and means are carefully articulated and organized, strike actions can still become quite destructive, certainly in the short term and often in the long term – as world history has amply and repeatedly shown. This is because strike actions are injurious to some extent or degree, and the act of injuring someone or something is never ethically neutral. Hence, depending on the nature and severity of the “injury” – which can range from minor inconvenience to major endangerment – it is open to the charge of being unethical unless compelling reasons can be marshaled that any alternative action or nonaction would be more injurious.

In 1945 the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) came into existence with the aim of promoting peace and universal respect for justice, the rule of law, human rights, and fundamental freedoms. UNESCO’s Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights (2005) identifies what are considered to be 15 principles (Articles 3–17) and their applications (Articles 18–28) that incorporate values that have been and continue to be widely recognized and shared by human beings across time and disparate cultures. Many of the values expressed within those articles – human dignity, personal integrity, personal responsibility, equality, justice, equity, solidarity, to name but a few – are the very values felt to be at risk by those who resort to strike actions. On this note, some of the ethical dimensions associated with specific kinds of strikes will be examined.

General Strikes

A general strike is a widespread collective action that can include political and social demands as well as purely economic ones. The strike force is usually composed of not only a wide swath of the workforce but, at times, students and members of the general citizenry as well. It is usually an action of last resort by a sector of the population who believe themselves or others to be disadvantaged by political and economic conditions. As a result, the goals of such strikes frequently are not primarily focused on addressing workplace demands from specific businesses or employers. Rather, they are more often focused on effecting political and/or economic public policy changes that, it is usually claimed, will better serve – and reflect – the public good. As such, they invite especial ethical scrutiny of the relationships between the citizenry, the workforce, and the government and its institutions (which may or may not include its economic ones).

Ethically speaking, the more democratic and open a government, the more a general strike action must be explained and justified as an action of last resort for protecting or restoring fundamental rights or interests. Hence, widespread or frequent general strikes within a democratic nation should be seen as ominous, representing significant challenges to the ethical legitimacy of the power relations and values underlying its very structure. When severe enough, such strikes may require a nation to undergo renegotiation of its basic social contract for it to remain a viable entity.

While strikes can and certainly do occur under any form of government, democracies that have not been well tended present a particularly challenging difficulty: an inherent power vacuum. Within such, the power of open and democratic processes can readily be subsumed by powerful, narrow interests. Unregulated capitalism is a most likely result. As Erich Loewy wrote in his text, Freedom and Community (1993):

…capitalism is essentially and basically inimical to true democracy in that it seeks to place power in the hands of a relatively few who control the economic resources, whereas democracy seeks to place such control in the hands of the many. Democracy, seeking to diffuse power, and capitalism, seeking to concentrate it, cannot well coexist.

Capitalism is basically an economic system. Democracy is basically a political system. Thus, capital need not – and, as a matter of fact, in today’s environment, too often cannot – be contained within democratic border, making it difficult, indeed, for it to be adequately regulated within national borders or for any groups of individuals to mount an effective, nonviolent collective action against it. This merely serves to underscore the distinction between real and ideal, namely, that, in reality, democracies are no more immune to the unjust and inequitable concentrations of power into the hands of a few individuals than are any other forms of government. As Plato (circa 428–348 B.C.E.) reminds us in the Republic, it is immaterial what form of government a society has if the welfare of that society has been corrupted by greed, ignorance, incompetence, and/or overambitiousness.

So, irrespective of the form of government, capital (and its attendant power) is dependent upon labor since capital cannot come into existence without having been produced originally by someone’s labor. When persons suffer because they are denied the just value of (and, therefore, power over) the fruits of their labor – whether by economic and/or political interests or means – they are ethically justified in seeking remedies. That being said, while there are often a range of remedies available, it is not only just but prudent to begin with the least disruptive remedies before resorting to those that are more disruptive so as to maximize both the good long and short-term consequences while minimizing the bad.

“Capital” Strikes

A “capital” strike is initiated by those owning or controlling wealth (i.e., capital). As mentioned earlier, there are a number of ways wealth can be understood. “Capital” is used here in the narrower sense prevalent today: financial capital – any form of wealth that is available for use by entities who have amassed wealth to produce even more wealth. Financial capital can be owned, accumulated, and used by individuals, partnerships, or corporate entities and usually takes the form of material assets or cash.

A “capital” strike occurs whenever an entity or group of entities withholds capital either within a specific sector of economy or the economy as a whole. Such withholding may take several forms. It may be limited to individual businesses, wherein a company decides to pursue any one or combination of the following actions:

  1. Not to replace retiring workers
  2. Not to hire adequate numbers of workers
  3. To lay off existing workers
  4. Not to invest or reinvest in their business infrastructure

Or it may occur via a consortium of such entities who aim to stimulate changes in economic and/or political policy, whether at the local, state, national, or international level by, for instance, economic and/or political boycotts.

There are a number of conditions which may prompt a capital strike: companies may feel that their profit margins are unsustainable – or perhaps merely unacceptable – because of economic policies or government regulations. They may, for example, decide to sequester cash reserves rather than risk unfavorable loan terms. In short, when companies fear that returns on new investments of capital may, for whatever reasons, be unacceptable, inadequate, or nonexistent, a “capital” strike can result. In such cases, the resulting strike is basically reactive.

But “capital” strikes can be proactive as well: wealthy companies or entities can exert a powerful influence over the development of economic policies and public and private regulatory agencies. Such power – and the fear of its loss – too often results in an ethical distortion of interests, values, and goals. To the degree that a company or entity pursues narrow self-interest to the exclusion of considering the basic interests, values, and goals of those with whom it interacts – be they other businesses, workers, consumers, or the rest of society – it causes disproportionate and unjustifiable harms by benefitting itself at the expense of others. This calls into question not only the ethicality of the company’s or entity’s present behavior but ultimately its long-term viability as well. For, after all, the well-being of a society depends on the well-being of its individual members which, in turn, requires the society to ensure a reasonably equitable and justified distribution of both benefits and harms.

“Essential” Strikes

“Essential” strikes are collective actions taken by individuals who work in areas – public or private – that can be categorized as essential to the provision of basic human needs. Essential services can include, but are not necessarily limited to, employment in the following areas of service: police, military, public health, medical (including medical facilities and pharmaceutical industries, etc.), emergency response teams, water, energy, postal, and communications related (reportage, journalism, television, radio, the Internet, telephone, etc.). Because there is often only one communal source for many of these essential services, strike actions of this sort can be more than simply inconvenient or annoying – they can be quite harmful and disruptive to the functioning of individuals as well as of the community as a whole.

Some have argued that workers in these areas should have no right to strike at all because of the potential dire consequences that could result from disruptions in the provision of these essential services. Others have argued that to deny the right to strike to anyone – “essential” workers included – would be tantamount to enslavement because loss of the right to strike would entail loss of recourse to effective collective bargaining (since collective bargaining without leverage from each side to the dispute would rob the process of the balance necessary for the most equitable resolution).

Given these two poles of argument, most governments recognize, at least in principle, a constitutional right to strike by all workers, including “essential” workers while reserving the power to subject that right to certain limitations and/or conditions. The rationale behind such regulation is based on the claim that, for any right to strike to remain ethically tenable, it must always compete and be balanced against other fundamental rights: in the case of an “essential” strike, it must compete and be balanced against the basic needs required for both the society and its individuals to flourish. As discussed earlier in this section – and echoed in Article 14 of UNESCO’s Declaration (2005) – the promotion of the best interests of all persons (social development, access to basic needs, reduction of poverty, illiteracy, exclusion and marginalization of any individuals, etc.) is “the central purpose of governments that all sectors of society share.”

While strike actions by police and military services stand, rather obviously, as the most stringently regulated by public policy, any strike by “essential” workers may, at some point, be regulated to the extent that it is reasonable and can be justified as the least burdensome – yet still effective – ethical alternative available. One of the ways such balance might be achieved in lieu of outright strike action is through mandatory (binding, compulsory) arbitration, where, unlike collective bargaining, all parties to a dispute regarding essential services are required to submit to a neutral third-party arbitration process.

As a result, most essential workers are expected to submit either to collective bargaining or mandatory arbitration in lieu of strike action. Yet, tellingly, even this policy has not completely resolved the issue. For example, in the USA police officers have been known to resort to what has euphemistically been called “the blue flu” (a quasi-strike action known as a “slowdown”) when arbitration becomes deadlocked or the officers believe their position has not been adequately or fairly addressed.

Interestingly, potential strike actions by healthcare professionals – especially physicians – have, at least until recently, been viewed somewhat differently, viz., few governments have been eager to resort to mandatory arbitration or legislative regulation specific to strike action; rather, they have been content to defer to the professions’ own autonomously endorsed ethical precepts to prevent such action. Hence, it is instructive to examine why this still tends to be the case. Since much of our familiarity with professional ethics comes as a result of the rich scholarship that has occurred in the field of medical ethics during the last 70 years or so, the following section will deal specifically with physician strikes.


Most of the workers involved with essential services are broadly considered “professionals,” even when they do not meet all of the traditional characteristics of a profession, viz., a group of individuals with exclusive service-oriented expertise and a specialized body of knowledge over which they are granted control (education, apprenticeship, licensure, regulatory power to admit and discipline members, etc.). Society not unreasonably expects a proportionate return for bestowing professionals with such considerable power over their respective disciplines, holding professionals to a heightened degree of responsibility equivalent to the heightened degree of professional autonomy granted them.

While their education is usually heavily subsidized, traditional professions are largely self-governing, insofar as they control the structure, education, and standards of practice and the licensing, regulation, and censure of their members. Physicians are one of the very few groups who belong to a profession in this more narrow, traditional sense of the term. In return for this high level of autonomous expertise, physicians undertake a fiduciary obligation to society: a trust relationship with patients – to care for them and to avoid doing them gratuitous harm. This includes assuming indirect as well as direct responsibility for coordinating and overseeing care (even when not present), never abandoning patients and never providing minimal or suboptimal care.

Under such a traditional fiduciary relationship, unless patients can be carefully safeguarded, physicians may never strike for purely self-interested reasons. Even when a strike can be justified in terms of being in the best interests of patients generally, physicians cannot knowingly place patients at risk. However, this traditional fiduciary relationship has undergone severe stress with the rise of third-party nonmedical interests (insurance companies, healthcare organizations, regulatory agencies, etc.) bent on acquiring increasing control over the costs – and, thus, the practice – of medicine today. As a result, patients and physicians are being constrained in novel ways, and the traditional taboos regarding physician strikes are beginning to erode.

Professionalism, Trust, And Its Erosion

 According to Thomasma and Hurley (1988), there are three basic causes for physicians to strike:

  1. To bring about better patient care for present and/or future patients
  2. To contest third-party intrusions
  3. To obtain better pay or benefits

As with other forms of strike, much depends on the existing social and political conditions and stresses: certainly, under circumstances where facilities, available therapies, or standards of care are shoddy or lacking, physicians are more likely to feel a strike action justified in order to protect current and future patients. Likewise, when third-party intrusions threaten patient safety – especially when they thwart or gain control of governmental regulatory powers – physicians are more likely to see some form of strike action as an option. And finally, if large numbers of physicians become unable to provide for their own basic needs due to a lack of control over the conditions of their practice, they are much more likely today to entertain strike actions – and are also more likely to justify them, at least in part, by claiming that the existing state of affairs is a threat to patient safety.

Over 35 years ago Norm Daniels argued in On the Picket Line (1978) that there are four criteria for a strike action by healthcare professionals to be ethical:

  1. The strike action cannot result in serious loss of life.
  2. The goals of the strike action must include improvements in patient care.
  3. The pursuit of good faith efforts to resolve the issue must first have been attempted prior to any strike action.
  4. The target and goals of the strike action must be carefully articulated.

Over the intervening years these criteria have been endorsed – at least in theory, if not so much in practice – by physicians as well as other healthcare workers. However, it might be argued that this list could be strengthened by the addition of several more criteria:

  1. The identification and utilization of the most humane organization possible of the means by which the goals of the strike action are to be pursued.
  2. Any proposed strike action should pursue a “least harm” policy:
  3. The least burdensome, while yet effective, type of strike action should be chosen – e.g., choosing a “paper” strike, where medical care is given but charting is stopped for all but seriously ill and unstable patients.
  4. Strikes must always be weighed against the harms of not striking.
  5. Widespread notification and public discussion of any contemplated strike action – this, alone, may stimulate negotiation sufficiently to eliminate the need to strike.
  6. Because of the social investment made in the education and training of physicians, any agreements reached for settling physician strike actions should be subject to public scrutiny, discussion, and approval.

While the pursuit of such strategies will not guarantee a halt to the erosion of professional autonomy or the contingent loss of trust increasingly felt by patients and professionals today, it may slow their progress until a healthcare system with a more humane, homeostatic balance is adopted.

Hunger Strikes

A hunger strike is the nonviolent protest action of refusing to eat by a person or group of persons. Hunger strikes are undertaken to call attention to grave issues – objectionable conditions, societal injustices, imprisonment, improper treatment, etc. – and to force change. Hunger strikes differ from the traditional understanding of a strike, insofar as the effects of the strike action are most immediately and profoundly felt by the striker or strikers and only indirectly by those against whom the strike is called. Instead of threatening economic hardship, hunger strikers rely on their own suffering to raise awareness and induce feelings of shame, guilt, and sympathy not only in those against whom they are striking but also in those who are bystanders to the situation. Once again, the success of such actions depends upon the specific context – the social and political conditions – within which such actions occur.

Unlike most other types of strikes, many of the most memorable hunger strikes have been accomplished by individuals – the twentieth century British suffragette Marion Wallace-Dunlop; the Indian leader Mohandas Gandhi; the Latin American civil rights leader Cesar Chavez; the Cuban journalist and dissident Guillermo Farinas; the Nigerian poet, playwright, and Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka; and the Irish nationalist Bobby Sands are a sample of well-known individuals.

However, there have been notable mass hunger strikes as well. In 1922–1923, for example, more than 14,000 Irish republicans were arrested without charge and kept in prison and internment camps without trial and endured significant deprivation and suffering. They struck for 41 days. In 2013, 30,000 of California prison inmates, living in some of the most oppressive prison conditions possible, began one of the largest hunger strikes in the USA to protest the use of long-term solitary confinement. One of the largest and longest mass hunger strikes was the rolling hunger strike (short-term, relay-style fasts) begun in 2006 by hundreds of Chinese activists. After the Chinese government responded with beatings, house arrests, kidnapping, and jail, tens of thousands of supporters in the international community joined in solidarity.

Perhaps the most extraordinary hunger strikes of recent history (circa 2002–2013) occurred at the US detention camps at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Prisoners, most of whom were being held without having been charged, struck in hopes of being treated in a manner consistent with the Geneva Conventions. The USA responded by force-feeding the prisoners with the help of medical personnel (most assuredly a prime example of medical professionals “treating” a government as the “patient” rather than the striking prisoners).

Despite being pressured by the United Nations, the USA ultimately buried the situation by simply announcing that it would no longer release information about the hunger strikes as such information “serve[s] no operational purpose” (The Huffington Post 2013).

That individuals feel required to subject themselves to such self-inflicted harms should generate concern for both the hunger strikers and the social conditions – perceived or real – that prompted such action. After all, the dignity and integrity of a society are measured largely by the importance it attaches to protecting the dignity and integrity of its members – especially of those deemed most vulnerable. As reflected in Articles 3 and 8 of UNESCO’s Declaration on Human Rights and Bioethics, dignity and integrity are foundational concepts for the preservation not only of autonomy but of justice as well.


Strikes, as can be seen from this brief entry, are various and ethically complex. They arise in response to unjust or unfair power differentials, whether perceived or real. They may occur between individuals, between individuals and corporate entities, between individuals and governments, or any combination thereof. Whatever their origin, they are significant insofar as they represent a serious, concrete objection to and rejection of existing practices or policies. They are predominantly economic and/or political in nature and are usually considered a stimulus for discussion, negotiation, and reform and, in the final analysis, they remain – and ought to remain, according to most assessments, pro or con – a measure of last resort.

Because of the variety of conflicting values, interests, and goals of the participants involved, ethical analyses of strike actions must be contextually thorough. Because of the unique circumstances and rich context surrounding each individual case, the ethical justification of strike actions in general will continue to undergo questioning and debate. And, finally, the right to strike must be considered a conditional right because it is always in competition with various other rights. However, it must also be considered a necessary right since, absent the right to strike, there is no effective leverage against coercive, unfair, or unjust institutionalized power – be it public or private, be it economic and/or political.

Bibliography :

  1. Daniels, N. (1978). On the picket line. The Hastings Center Report, 8(1), 24–29.
  2. Egerton, W. F. (1951). The strikes in Ramses III’s twenty-ninth year. Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 10, 137–145.
  3. Kant, I. (1785 [1958]). Foundations of the metaphysics of morals (L. W. Beck, Trans.). Indianapolis: Bobbs Merrill Educational Company.
  4. Loewy, E. H. (1993). Freedom and community: The ethics of interdependence. Albany: State University of New York Publishers.
  5. Smith, A. (1776 [1937]). An inquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations. New York: Modern Library. The Huffington Post. 4 December 2013.
  6. Thomasma, D. C., & Hurley, R. M. (1988). Ethics of health professional strikes. In D. C. Thomasma & J. F. Monagle (Eds.), Medical ethics: A guide for health professionals (pp. 358–374). Rockville: Aspen Publishers, chapter 31.
  7. (2005). Universal declaration on bioethics and human rights. Accessed 1 Oct 2015.
  8. Webb, B., & Webb, S. (1894 [1976]). The history of trade unionism. New York: AMS Press.
  9. Wells, H. G. (1920 [1931]). The new and revised outline of history. New York: Garden City Publishing Company.
  10. Picketty, T. (2013). Capital in the twenty-first century (A. Goldhammer, Trans.). First published as Le capital au XXI siecle. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press: Cambridge (MA) and London (England), 2014.
  11. Pike, J. (1998). Strikes. In R. Chadwick (Ed.), Encyclopedia of applied ethics (2nd ed., Vol. 4, pp. 239–247). San Diego: Academic.
  12. Stiglitz, J. (2012). The price of inequality: How today’s divided society endangers our future. New York: Norton and Company.

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