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The Right to Strike: A Radical View

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 June 2018

Brown University
Alex Gourevitch is an Assistant Professor of Political Science, Brown University, 36 Prospect St., Providence, RI, 02912 (


Workers face a common dilemma when exercising their right to strike. For the worst-off workers to go on strike with some reasonable chance of success, they must use coercive strike tactics like mass pickets and sit-downs. These tactics violate some basic liberties, such as contract, association, and private property, and the laws that protect those liberties. Which has priority, the right to strike or the basic liberties strikers might violate? The answer depends on why the right to strike is justified. In contrast to liberal and social democratic arguments, on the radical view defended here, the right to strike is a right to resist oppression. This oppression is partly a product of the legal protection of basic economic liberties, which explains why the right to strike has priority over these liberties. The radical view thus best explains why workers may use some coercive, even lawbreaking, strike tactics.

Research Article
Copyright © American Political Science Association 2018 

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I would like to thank the following people for very helpful individual conversations about this essay: Samuel Arnold, Joshua Braver, Candice Delmas, Leah Downey, David Estlund, Nicholas Frayn, Harrison Frye, Andreas Kalyvas, Karl Klare, Jeffrey Lenowitz, Frank Lovett, Chris Muller, Suresh Naidu, Jeppe von Platz, Peter Ramsay, Corey Robin, Julie Rose, Lucas Stanczyk, and Carla Yumatle. I am also grateful to political theory workshop participants at the following colleges and universities: University of Virginia, Princeton University, MIT, Brown, New School, University of Chicago (Human Rights Workshop), Stanford, Tufts, Dartmouth (Workshop on Economic Justice), Washington University, Columbia University (September Group), University of Pennsylvania, McGill University (Left Political Theory). I would also like to thank the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study for generously supporting a year of leave during which I was able to write and revise this article.



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