Interpreting strike activity in western Europe in the past 20 years: the labour repertoire under pressure

Kurt Vandaele
  • Transfer European Review of Labour and Research, August 2016, SAGE Publishing
  • DOI: 10.1177/1024258916658804

Strikes in Europe

What is it about?

This article provides a comparative overview of developments in strike activity in western Europe since the mid-1990s. It uses various indicators to analyse discernible trends over time in levels and patterns of strike activity across sectors and countries. The article argues that strikes are generally blending into a broader palette of workers’ repertoire of collective action. This possible blending applies in particular to a context in which the institutional logic of collective bargaining is underdeveloped or has been undermined.

Why is it important?

Our reading of the available strike data is that it is tempting today to claim that the action repertoire has been undergoing noteworthy diversification, although not to the same extent in all economic sectors and all western European countries. Thus, the article argues that strikes are generally blending into a broader palette of workers’ repertoire of collective action. This possible blending applies in particular to a context in which the institutional logic of collective bargaining is underdeveloped or has been undermined.

Perspectives

Dr Kurt Vandaele (Author)
European Trade Union Institute

Whereas any interpretation is dependent on the country selected and period studied, two general observations can be made about strike developments over the past 20 years. First, the level of strike activity has fallen further in almost all countries in western Europe, resulting in a levelling off of aggregated days-not-worked rates. But this should not be mistaken for an absence of conflict in employment relations. The second general observation is that even though strike developments in specific sectors are often similar, countries can still be categorized in terms of the dominant pattern of their strikes. In general, it looks like there are increasing incentives for the labour movement as a whole to experiment progressively with combining a labour repertoire with a citizens’ rights-oriented repertoire for supplementing labour rights.

The following have contributed to this page: Dr Kurt Vandaele