Gene Sharp's 198 Methods, Number 117 - General Strike

General Strike

The Lokashakti Encyclopedia of Nonviolence, Peace, & Social Justice

Seattle Union Record from February 3, 1919 announcing a general strike

The general strike is widespread stoppage of labor by workers in an attempt to bring the economic life of a given area to a more or less complete standstill in order to achieve certain desired objectives.[111] The method may be used on a local, regional, national, or international level. Wilfred Harris Crook defined the general strike as “the strike of a major region.”[112] When confined to a city it may be called a localized general strike, such as occurred in Seattle, Washington, and Winnipeg, Canada, in 1919 and Vienna in 1927.[113] While a general strike is usually intended to be total, certain vital services may be allowed to operate, especially those necessary for health, such as provision of milk, water, and food; sewage disposal; and hospital services. Crook distinguishes three broad types of the general strike — political, economic, and revolutionary:

There is the political general strike, with the aim of exacting some definite political concession from the existing government, as the demand for universal suffrage in the Belgian General Strikes, or, more rarely, for the purpose of upholding the existing government against a would-be usurper, as the German strike against the Kapp-Putsch in 1920. The economic type is perhaps the most common form, at least at the beginning of the strike, and is exemplified by the Swedish strike of 1909. The revolutionary general strike, aiming at the definite overthrow of the existing government or industrial system, may be revolutionary in its purpose from the very start, or it may develop its revolutionary purpose as it proceeds. It is more likely to be found in countries where labor has not been long or extensively organized, or where the influential leaders of labor are largely syndicalist or anarchist in viewpoint, as Russia in 1905, Spain or Italy.[114]

The general strike has been widely advocated in radical socialist, syndicalist and anarchist thought; it has been practiced by English, Russian and Scandinavian socialists, and French, Italian, Spanish and South American anarchists and syndicalists.[115]

There are a large number of examples of general strikes, with considerable geographical and political variations. The Belgian general strikes of 1893, 1902 and 1913 supported demands for political reforms, including universal manhood suffrage.[116] Early general strikes in Imperial Russia were held at Rostov-on-Don in 1902 and Odessa in 1903,[117] and general strikes were widely used during the 1905 Russian Revolution. Perhaps the largest and most important of these was the Great October Strike of 1905, involving most of the cities of Imperial Russia that had any degree of industrial life.[118] The situation in Moscow is illustrative:

Within a week, Moscow was virtually isolated, and most of her important public activities were at a standstill. All train connections were severed. All telegraphic connections along the lines emanating from the city were silent. Only the central General Telegraph Office remained in operation in the city to provide communication with the outside and the railroadmen were planning to close it.[119]

The general strike was also used against the Kapp Putsch in Weimar Germany in 1920, as we saw in Chapter Two.

By the late afternoon of March 14, 1920, the greatest strike the world had ever seen was a reality. The economic life of the country came to a standstill … Kapp attempted to break the strike … [and] made picketing a capital offense. But his efforts proved totally ineffectual.[120]

1936 Syrian General StrikeThe general strike in Norway in 1921 was against wage reductions,[121] and the Chinese general strike of 1925 was over economic and nationalist grievances.[122] The British General Strike of May 3-12, 1926, was the outgrowth of unsatisfied claims of the coal miners, and developed into a major test of power between workers and the government, complicated by the capitulation by the trade union leaders.[123]

In Amsterdam a general strike was held on Febrary 25 and 26, 1941, to protest maltreatment of the city’s Jews.[124] The 1943 Dutch general strike, or wave of strikes, from April 29 to as late as May 8 in some places, involved a majority of industrial workers, who opposed the planned internment of Dutch army veterans in Germany.[125] In Copenhagen, too, the general strike was applied during the Nazi occupation, from June 30 to about July 4, 1944, with the aim of forcing the Germans to withdraw the state of martial law and to remove the hated Danish fascist Schalburgkorps from the country. Negotiations led to German concessions, though not to the granting of the full demands.[126]

General strikes played a very important role in many cities and towns during the East German Rising of June 1953.[127] A general strike in Haiti in February 1957 ousted the temporary president, Pierre Louis.[128]

Gene Sharp, reprinted with permission, from The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Part Two: The Methods of Nonviolent Action. Method #117, pp. 275-277.  First published in 1973.  Seventh Printing.  Boston: Porter Sargent Publishers, 1998.

  • [111] For more detailed discussion of the general strike, see esp. Wilfred H. Crook, “General Strike,” Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (New York: Macmillan, 1935) vol. VI. pp. 607-612; Crook, The General Strike: A Study of Labor's Tragic Weapon in Theory and Practice (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1931); and Crook, Communism and the General Strike (Hamden, Connecticut: The Shoe String Press, 1960).
  • [112] Crook, The General Strike, p. vii.
  • [113] Ibid.
  • [114] Ibid., pp. vii-viii.
  • [115] Bart. de Ligt, The Conquest of Violence: An Essay on War and Revolution (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1938, and London: George Routledge & Sons, 1937), pp. 110-111; and Florence Peterson, American Labor Unions: What They Are and How They Work (New York: Harper and Bros., 1945), p. 257, for example.
  • [116] Crook, The General Strike, pp. 54-103.
  • [117] Hugh Seton-Watson, The Decline of Imperial Russia, 1855-1914 (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1966), pp. 128 and 130.
  • [118] Sidney Harcave, First Blood: The Russian Revolution of 1905 (New York: Macmillan, 1964), pp. 180-186.
  • [119] Ibid., p. 181.
  • [120] William S. Halperin, Germany Tried Democracy: A Political History of the Reich from 1918 to 1933 (Hamdon, Conn. and London: Archon Books, 1963 [1946]), pp. 179-180.
  • [121] Walter Galenson, Labor in Norway (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1949), p. 162.
  • [122] Crook, “General Strike,” p. 610.
  • [123] Julian Symons, The General Strike: A Historical Portrait (London: The Cresset Press, 1957); and Crook, The General Strike, pp. 361-445.
  • [124] Jong, “Anti-Nazi Resistance in the Netherlands,” in European Resistance Movements 1939-1945. First International Conference on the History of the Resistance Movements held at Liege-Brusseles-Breendonk, 14-17 September 1958 (Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1960), p. 140; and Werner Warmbrunn, The Dutch Under German Occupation 1940-1945 (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1963), pp. 106-111.
  • [125] Warmbrunn, The Dutch … , pp. 113-118; and Jong, “Anti-Nazi Resistance in the Netherlands,” p. 141 and personal letter confirming the participation of a majority of industrial workers from Dr. L. de Jong, 7 July 1966.
  • [126] Hans Kirchhoff, Henrik S. Nissen and Henning Poulsen, Besaettelsestidens Historie (Copenhagen: Forlaget Fremad, Danmarks Radios Grundbøger, 1964) pp. 206-209.
  • [127] Stefan Brant, The East German Rising (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1957), translated and adapted by Charles Wheeler, pp. 69-136 passim.
  • [128] Time. 18 February 1957. p. 23.
  • Bios   ( 24 )
    Inspirational noteworthy figures in the history of nonviolence, peace, and social justice
  • Groups   ( 24 )
    Groups and organizations that have played significant roles in nonviolent movements
  • Concepts   ( 18 )
    Important concepts related to peace and nonviolence, especially in regards to nonviolent action
  • Movements   ( 26 )
    Movements and historical events where nonviolent action was used entirely or in large part
fuga mobilya