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Quitting Work but Not the Job: Liberty and the Right to Strike

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 June 2016


The right to strike is everywhere recognized but appears unjustifiable. Strikers refuse to work but they claim a right to the job. This sounds like illiberal privilege, or at least it cannot be a coercively enforceable claim. I argue, however, that the right to strike is justified as a way of resisting intertwined forms of structural and personal domination associated with the modern labor market. Workers are structurally dominated insofar as being forced to make a contract with some employer or another leaves them vulnerable to exploitation. They are personally dominated insofar as they are required to submit to the arbitrary authority of managers in the workplace, which deepens their potential exploitation. Strikes contest this domination by reversing the relationship of power. Workers can formally quit the job but they can’t quit work, so strikers quit working but don’t quit the job.

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