Wildcat or official strike action?

Violence - the standard way workers' organisation was dealt with until recently

A discussion of the relative merits of official strike action or unsanctioned wildcat action. Wildcat action has the benefits of being outside the pro-employer union laws.

The best-known form of direct action is the strike, in which workers simply walk off their jobs and refuse to produce profits for the boss until they get what they want. This is the preferred tactic of bureaucratic unions but is one of the least effective ways of confronting the boss.

The bosses, with their large financial reserves, are better able to withstand a long drawn-out strike than the workers. In many cases, court orders will freeze or confiscate the union's strike funds. And worst of all, a long walk-out only gives the boss a chance to replace striking workers with a replacement, or "scab", workforce.

Workers are far more effective when they take direct action while still on the job. By deliberately reducing the boss's profits while continuing to collect wages, you can cripple the boss without giving some scab the opportunity to take your job.

Unofficial, or wildcat, action - that is, organised with other workers independent of union officials bypasses anti-union laws meaning there are no union funds to sequester and there is no obligation to provide the bosses with advance warning - giving them the opportunity to arrange scabs.

Direct action, by definition, means those tactics workers can undertake themselves, without the help of government agencies, union bureaucrats, or high-priced lawyers. Running to an Industrial Tribunal (or outside the UK the relevant arbitration board in your country) for help may be appropriate in some cases, but it is not a form of direct action, and they too are generally weighted in the bosses’ favour, taking up a great deal of time and money.

Listed here are some of the most popular forms of direct action that workers have used to get what they wanted. Yet nearly every one of these tactics is, technically speaking, illegal. Every major victory won by labour over the years was achieved with militant direct actions that were, in their time, illegal and subject to police repression. After all, for much of history the laws surrounding trade unions were simple - there were none. Strikers were routinely beaten and killed by police and soldiers and imprisoned with extremely harsh sentences.

After years of relentless struggle, the legal right of workers to organise is now officially recognised, yet so many restrictions exist that effective action is as difficult as ever. For this reason, any worker contemplating direct action on the job - bypassing the legal system and hitting the boss where they are weakest - should be fully aware of labour law, how it is applied, and how it may be used against labour activists. At the same time, workers must realise that the struggle between the bosses and the workers is not a badminton match - it is war. Under these circumstances, workers must use what works, whether the bosses (and their courts) like it or not. Listed in this section, then, are the most useful forms of direct action.

It is worth bearing in mind that the best weapon is, of course, organisation. If one worker stands up and protests, the bosses will squash him or her like a bug. Squashed bugs are obviously of little use to their families, friends, and social movements in general. But if all the workers stand up together, the boss will have no choice but to take you seriously. They can fire any individual worker who makes a fuss, but they might find it difficult to fire their entire workforce.

Solidarity is strength!

Edited by libcom from an article by the Industrial Workers of the World