Sunday, 14 December 2014

The political effect of general strikes

On Monday 15 December, a national strike will be held in Belgium, against the government’s austerity plans and for social justice. The action is consistent with a European trend: as the number of ‘normal’ strikes declines, the number of general strikes is growing. Since 1980, 130 general strikes (including 13 credible strike threats) have taken place in Europe, including as many as 36 in the period 2010–2012.

And those general strikes appear to be successful, researchers Kerstin Hamann, Alison Johnston and John Kelly (via Kurt Vandaele) conclude. Not only can general strikes force governments to change their policies; in addition, government parties that are confronted with a general strike tend to get fewer votes in the next election. After a general strike, voters punish not only left parties; centre and right governments suffer the same fate.

With this type of correlations it’s difficult to demonstrate causality, although the authors have of course corrected for a number of relevant variables. In any case, government parties that are confronted with a general strike should be worried about the next election.

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