A general strike
is an organized work stoppage by a large number of employees across a
broad spectrum of industries in an effort to advance a political or
More common in Europe than in the United States, the general strike has its roots in the British working class movement of the mid-1800s; one of the first major general strikes in the United Kingdom occurred in 1842, when unionists and Chartists led
a massive strike for better wages and political reform. About 500,000
workers across Britain participated in the strike, which staved off
proposed wage cuts and improved working conditions in most factories.
In the United States, W.E.B. Du Bois characterized the tens of thousands of slaves
who abandoned plantations during the Civil War as a "general strike
against slavery." He credited this general strike with winning the war
for the Union by transferring the labor of the "black worker" from
"the Confederate planter to the Northern invader, in whose army lines
workers began to be organized as a new labor force."
More recent examples of general strikes include one in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 2014 — in which workers called for increased wages and lower taxes in response to higher living costs — and a nationwide strike across India
in 2016. In India, tens of millions of public sector workers staged a
24-hour general strike against the "anti-worker and anti-people"
policies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It was the "world's largest
ever" strike, according to union officials.