Socialist Worker

How to go on strike

by Paul McGarr
Issue No. 2278

 (Pic: http://www.timonline.infoTim Sanders )

(Pic: Tim Sanders)


For many people, 30 November will be their first time on strike. So what do you do?

The wrong answer is to stay at home. Striking is above all about doing something collectively and putting pressure on the employers and the government. It’s not just having a day off. There’s not much point in losing a day’s pay without having the biggest possible impact.

Striking is also about people feeling their strength when they do something together.

That means organising to make sure the biggest number of people are involved.


A basic but crucial thing is to make sure you meet in your workplace well before the strike, to discuss and agree what to do.

If you can, meet in work at lunchtime or after work. If that’s not possible, find a nearby suitable venue and get at least some people together before the strike day.

Have you got a workplace banner? Why not ask some people at work to make one—you’d be amazed at the hidden talents that emerge.

For slogans or placards let imagination run free. All sorts of people can come up with good ideas.

Maybe have an honorary prize for the best one.

Some people may have childcare issues on the day especially as many schools are likely to be closed.

Obviously it depends on the situation individually, but kids usually have a great time on picket lines and demos—so why not bring them along?


On the day, the key thing is to get as many people together as possible.

Lots of things can help build the feeling of collective strength and organisation.

A picket line is a good idea. Even if your workplace will be completely closed it is good to meet together in the morning.

You want people doing things together as far as possible, not just taking part as individuals.

If there may be some people going into work—either because they aren’t on strike or you aren’t sure all members will strike—a picket line is essential.

It sends a clear message that the strike is on.

And you can try to persuade any doubtful members that they shouldn’t cross—you have a right to do this—and join you.

Some workers have a great tradition of refusing to cross any picket lines. For example, if you picket postal workers they are very unlikely to cross.

It’s a great morale booster to see the post van turn away from your workplace!

Given the scale of the strike there will almost certainly be other workplaces and picket lines within walking distance of you. Why not contact people in advance and arrange to meet up?

Maybe you don’t know the union reps at nearby workplaces who may be striking. If not, get a couple of workmates, pop round and brazenly say you’re on union business and ask for the union rep at reception. It won’t get results all the time, but you’d be amazed at how effective this simple, direct approach can be.


If you say you are picketing and meeting up at your workplace to then join the demos, those at nearby workplaces are much more likely to do the same.

You may wish to arrange a meeting time and place (such as a transport hub) for people from workplaces in the area to come together to travel to the demo.

Imagine if you picket and then tour local workplaces collecting up greater numbers from all different unions and types of workplaces.

You could have strikers from schools, health centres and hospitals, civil service offices, council offices and depots coming together.

You can then all grab a coffee or a bite to eat before travelling together to join the demo and rally.


The links you make in every locality can add to the feeling of collective organisation and strength—and really help build for whatever comes next.

There’s no substitute for people knowing each other face to face, even in these days of email and tweeting.

And all day you’ll find yourself talking to people in a way that only rarely happens in normal days in most workplaces.

People taste collective strength and begin to ask different questions and provide answers they may never have thought of before.

They begin the process of becoming different people.


Don’t forget attention to detail. Has someone got flasks of coffee or whatever and snacks for the picket line?

Have you swapped mobile numbers with as many people as possible in your own and nearby workplaces—to keep in touch on the day and in the future?

Striking and demonstrating can have a huge impact on the government—and it can be liberating and enjoyable for everyone who takes part.

It can transform the feeling and confidence in your own workplaces and, if you make the links, in every locality.

Imagine if this happened in thousands of small areas across Britain. The day after the strike and the day before will be different countries.

And last, but not the least important, do make sure you organise a meeting after the strike.

Here, everyone can say what they thought and felt and discuss what should happen next. And if you can, keep up contact with people you met from nearby workplaces too.


Key questions

Can non-union members strike?

Anyone eligible to join any of the striking unions can join at any time—up to and including the day of the strike. Then they can legally join the strike, even if they were not balloted.

Take union membership forms on the picket line.

Are you doing anything illegal?

No. The strike is perfectly legal.

You can’t be disciplined or sacked for taking part, as long as your union has balloted and called you out.

Can and should you picket?

Yes. You have a legal right to peacefully put your case to people on a picket line.

What do you do if managers ask you if you’re going on strike or pressure you not to?

You don’t have to tell them, and the union does not have to give names.

Just refer the manager to your union rep or official.

They only have to say there are so many union members at a particular workplace who are being called out.


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