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industrial actionmeasures taken by one or more workers either to bring pressure to bear on employers during the course of an INDUSTRIAL DISPUTE or as a response to their conditions of work and employment. Industrial action can therefore be an element of a strategy to win concessions from employers, or an expression of discontent and CONFLICT (or both). Generally the most dramatic form of industrial action is where employees withdraw their labour by going on STRIKE. There are other methods, however, many of which are less costly to employees since they do not usually result in complete loss of wages for the duration of the action. These include:
- the overtime ban, where employees refuse to work any time in excess of the hours stipulated in their CONTRACT OF EMPLOYMENT;
- the go-slow, where employees work at a slower rate than usual;
- the work-to-rule, where employees observe strictly the terms of their job description and their contract of employment, thereby requiring a greater level of direct supervision by management than is usual and restricting FLEXIBILITY.
The success of these forms of action is based on the fact that the work process usually requires a degree of cooperation and flexibility from the workforce in excess of that which can be formally embodied in the contract. Withdrawal of this cooperation can thus be an effective sanction. These forms of action are especially useful to those occupational groups who are prohibited from withdrawing their labour or who find STRIKE action morally repugnant.
A rarer form of industrial action is the work-in or occupation (‘sit-in’) where workers take over the running of the workplace, usually in response to a threat of closure.
Workers may also take individual action either as an expression of discontent or as an element of a personal strategy to improve their working life. ABSENTEEISM, where workers stay away from work, and quitting altogether (see LABOUR TURNOVER) are good examples of this. Sabotage (i.e. deliberate interference with equipment and the work process) is often seen as an individual outburst of dissatisfaction but it can also be a collective action carefully designed to regulate the pace of work.
Although attention generally focuses on action taken by workers, employers also take industrial action on occasions. For instance they may lock-out the workforce (i.e. prevent their employees from entering the workplace) in an attempt to secure concessions or to counter employee action during a dispute. A more indirect form of action is where they deliberately foster a STRIKE or other form of employee action, possibly as a way of reducing labour costs when the order book is low. See ALIENATION, JOB SATISFACTION, SECONDARY ACTION.