Striking without harming the public

The right to unionize and to strike has been fundamental in improving the lives of all of us. It is the only counterbalancing weapon that low-level workers have against the power of their bosses. But the downside to strikes, apart from the fact that workers suffer loss in wages during it, is that the general public also suffers. So when for example, teachers go on strike, students and their parents are inconvenienced and teachers need their support and understanding to prevail. The situation becomes harder for nurses where striking means leaving patients without adequate care.

In the case of public transportation workers, going of strike can cause massive disruptions in the commutes of workers. The bigger the disruption, the more likely that the employers will be forced to negotiate and settle. But in the case of some bus drivers in Japan, they found a way to hurt the bosses without inconveniencing the public. What they did was drive their buses as usual but refuse to collect any fares from passengers, in effect providing free public transit.

In cases such as this, management may use the labor stoppage against the drivers, appealing to the public that they are putting their own needs before the community’s. So to show that isn’t the case, Ryobi drivers are continuing to clock in, but without performing the part of their job that requires them to accept payment during certain times. In other words, free bus rides for all!

This isn’t the first time such a strike has occurred in Japan or around the world. Both Brisbane and Sydney held fare-free days as part of labor disputes last year. The earliest documented case of a “fare strike” goes back a protest by Cleveland streetcar workers in 1944, and similar cases involving other services have happened in Europe and Latin America prior to that.

I hadn’t realized that my adopted hometown of Cleveland had pioneered this idea in the US. Yay for us!


  1. robert79 says

    ” So when for example, teachers go on strike, students and their parents are inconvenienced”

    I’m curious what the equivalent concept in terms of teaching would be. Teach your classes but refuse to hand out grades?

  2. Mano Singham says


    I wondered about that too. One option might be to just teach the classes but not do any of the other administrative tasks that are expected of teachers, such as attending meetings, enforcing rules, providing lessons plans, etc.

  3. jrkrideau says

    @ 3 mano
    That was my thought too but it might not be disruptive enough.

    The recent teachers’ strikes in the US seem to suggest that a key point is to get parents as allies. Of course, the US situations were rather dire.

  4. anat says

    Teach class but skip standardized tests and anything related to the lead-up to them.

  5. lanir says

    I was in Canada some time ago when nurses were striking. My understanding of the situation was that anyone with a serious condition was still being taken care of. Surgeries were going forward. But anything elective or that could wait was put off. I think healthcare providers are used to sorting out people’s needs in this way so it wasn’t a huge effort to build this from the ground up. They probably just had to decide what sort of people they wanted to insure care for and go from there.

    This is most definitely not an authoritative account of it. This is just what I remember hearing from friends a couple decades ago. Some of them worked in the healthcare industry but they weren’t very close to the strike.

  6. lanir says

    Blah. Mistype. SOME surgeries were going forward. Others had to wait. Depended on what was needed. Some patients were most definitely inconvenienced.

  7. jrkrideau says

    @ 7 lanir
    What province?

    Your summary sounds reasonable. Generally if acute care hospital nurses are striking, all discretionary procedures and admission would be postponed. Anything urgent would go ahead.

    There would simply be a very strict triage and rankings of planned procedures.

    How the staffing would be decided, I have no idea.

  8. chigau (違う) says

    In Alberta, under King Ralph, there was a bit of a bother about nurses going on strike.
    Mostly, the nurses sought empoyment elsewhere.
    That was a while ago and we have gotten better.

  9. morsgotha says

    I remember some time ago the firefighters in the UK went on strike. Another essential service. They had to call in the army and use the old “Green godesses” fire engines from the 50’s.

  10. EigenSprocketUK says

    Morsgotha, the fire fighters’ strike (with the army on standby with the Green Goddesses) was a loooong time ago. (1970s?) The August 2014 strikes didn’t have any standby from the army. None.
    This was a good thing not only because the few surviving green goddess appliances are risibly pathetic by modern standards (they’re actually quite dangerous) but because there just isn’t anyone with the training and ability to fight a fire safely other than the striking fire fighters themselves. Yes, there are well-trained airport fire teams, but they are very few and they don’t have the right gear. Yes, there’s the army, but they don’t really have a clue about real fire fighting, never had a chance to learn, and they just just wouldn’t know what to do with the right gear.
    The August strike went without very much public profile, and there was the conditional backstop that the striking fire fighters said they they would still respond to a major emergency or public safety matter.
    The people who were hurt in that strike were the employers, the insurers, and the major businesses that were legitimately sweating at the thought that a factory might go up in flames with no-one in it, and it would be left to burn. Either to the ground, or until the scheduled end of the strike. (They were a series of several non-consecutive 12-24 hr strikes). The people most hurt were the bosses of the strikers who were massively inconvenienced and their governmental overseers who were politically exposed. In a way, the 2014 strikes were quietly and modestly successful.

  11. Curious Digressions says

    State law in the state I live in prevents teachers from striking. To protest failure to negotiate in good faith, the teachers would “work to the contract”. They stopped doing all of the extra things teachers do every day to pressure administration to negotiate more fairly. It was surprising to students how much extra teachers do beyond what is required. Of course, this was back when teachers had contracts and the union hadn’t be put over a barrel by the governor.

    Short of not showing up, there isn’t an equivalent. Most parents look at schools the same way they look at auto repair. The car [kid] goes in, something happens, they get it [them] back at the end of the day. As long as teachers warehouse the kids, there is no immediate inconvenience to the parents.

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