Since the 1970's there has been a dramatic decline in strike activity in most western countries. This decline can be seen in the ILO statistics on the subject, but also in the data published by the World Labor Research Working Group (WLG) of the Fernand Braudel Center.
The decline is obvious but the explanation for this decline is multi-faceted. Each country has its own course of history, although the overall development is the same. It looks e.g. as if the differences between the Rhineland and the Anglo-Saxon systems of labour relations do not influence the general developments of strike activity in the respective zones. It may also be however that the seeming decline is a result of false statistics and the exclusion of political strikes to mention only one aspect.
On the other hand, developments clearly differ in the core countries of world capitalism from those in the periphery or the semi-periphery. For a country like China there is a complete lack of reliable statistics, but press reports indicate a sky rocketing of labour conflicts.
Of course statistics are only one aspect of the story. Even when statistical developments show a decline in strike activity the possibility exists that the remaining strikes have a much bigger economic, political or ideological influence on society than in the preceding era. The reverse is also possible. A high incidence, however measured, may have only a slight influence. We therefore will try to make a balanced study of strikes in a number of countries. We aim at meeting the qualitative and quantitative sides of the story.
The development of strike activity in a number of countries since the strike wave of the late '60's and early '70's. Of course this wave did not happen at exactly the same time everywhere and authors should mention the wave in their respective countries. The time range of the wave will be somewhat from 1968 to 1972.
1. Introduction (international developments of the world economy and strike activity).
This can be nothing more than a brief sketch of the downward Kondratiev and the following globalization, privatization, restructuring of the labour market etc.
Following ILO statistics and a division according to WLG criteria (core etc) general trends can be sketched and compared to WLG data.
2. Case-studies (a number of European countries, north America and preferably non-western countries or regions) in which a more qualitative view is presented.
3. Statistics (official and possibly also unofficial) on at least the countries treated in 2. This part will consist of:
- Bare statistics (frequency, intensity, duration and the wage-dependent workforce). Problems such as changing patterns as a result of changing national borders should be mentioned and if possible met with.
- Composite indices of strikes activity (for practical reasons we propose the adjusted Van Kooten-index, see: Review Fernand Braudel Center, vol. XXVI, number 4, 2003, p. 392). Constructing these indices is the only way to properly compare countries; otherwise we can only use the ILO method of comparing the duration of strikes to each 1,000 workers. This method ignores frequency and intensity.
4. Summary and if possible some conclusions
Following the case studies the overall view from section 1 can be falsified or verified. It seems advisable that the same author(s) will write sections 1 and 4.
In order to publish a truly global book countries or regions will be chosen from all over the world. Of course the choice will partially be made accidentally. At this point we can expect submissions on Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands and South Africa and we are eager to attract more scholars to the project.
The main question is: did strike activity grow or decline in the research period. Emphasis should be on legal and political-economic developments regarding the working class (industrial relations and legal framework of strikes and lockouts), but also on the balance between leadership and rank-and-file of the labour unions. The reliability of official statistics should also be mentioned.
Organized by Sjaak van der Velden