Strikes and democracy

By Joost Koot

In “Forging democracy from below: Insurgent transitions in South Africa and El Salvador” Elisabeth Wood argues that the way the South-African apartheid regime was convinced to negotiate about equality between black and white, was by hurting their economic interests. She also mentions that a way of hurting the economic interests of the elite was by striking.

In the western world strikes are also used to hurt the interest of the elite, but in a different way. By striking, the personnel tries to force their employer to give in to their wishes. (

Nowadays the mere threat of strikes can be enough to start negotiations between unions and employers, or to bump the ongoing negotiations in the favour of unions. The reason for this is similar as in South Africa around the time of the abolishment of Apartheid: it hurts the economic interests of a certain party.

As opposed to that time however, long continuous resistance is generally not necessary to start the negotiations. Actions or resistance that are considered long in modern conflicts between unions and employers do not even come close to the length of the battle in South Africa.

Nevertheless, I would argue that the continued resistance Wood uses in her argument can apply to modern day relationships between unions and employers. A big difference however is that the threat of long lasting resistance has become enough to convince employers to negotiate.

An example of this can be an agreement reached between Fiat Chrysler and a union in America. After threatening strikes, the two parties managed to come to an agreement that resulted in the strikes being called off. (