European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

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9 January 2014

Strikes in times of crisis: no increase or no data?

A new visual map or infographic comparing the days not worked due to industrial action in the last two decades for different countries shows that the strike volume in most countries has not increased. Also, the yearly development of the strike volume shows the volatility of strike activity with remarkable one-off peaks. But another finding from the infographic also confirms that several national authorities seem to have lost an interest in collecting data on industrial action.

The strike map is based on strike volume data from ETUI’s 2013 Benchmarking Social Europe report but was updated with more recent information used for the upcoming Benchmarking report 2014. The strike volume or days not worked due to industrial action is calculated by the multiple of its duration and the number of workers involved.

The infographic shows, where possible, the average development of the strike volume per 1,000 employees in 28 countries of the European Union, its candidate countries and Norway and Switzerland between 1991-2000 and 2001-2010 and for each country the yearly development in the strike volume for the last ten years.

The main points highlighted by the infographic are:

  • Cross-country differences in strike levels remain largely intact in the past two decades meaning that, over all, strike activity should be understood in its specific industrial relations system.
  • In most countries the relative strike volume declined in the 2000s compared to the previous decade with France and the UK as notable exceptions.
  • Mass strikes largely explain the peaks in the strike volume. Since the Great Recession a shift has occurred in the mass strikes towards political mass strikes, often occurring in the public sector, in both single-employer and multi-employer bargaining systems since the crisis with ‘Germanic’ and Nordic Europe as exceptions.
  • Industry-wide strikes, either in the private or public sector tend to occur in the North of Europe, all countries with a multi-employer bargaining system (sector-based); political mass strikes – either generalized public sector strikes or general strikes in certain regions or for the whole economy–are associated with the South of Europe but also Belgium and France and Cyprus, Estonia, Ireland and the UK – the latter four are countries with a single-employer bargaining system.
  • National authorities seem to have lost interest in collecting data on industrial action. In crisis-hit Greece, Italy and Portugal, data are no longer collected or its collection is ‘postponed’. Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union, provided data on strike activity up to the year 2008 but this is today no longer the case.
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