Strike. A work stoppage by workers to enforce demands or protest against an act or condition, usually accompanied by demonstrations. Some strikes involve political demands. Local strikes are limited to one factory or region; general strikes can encompass an entire country.
In Russian-ruled Ukraine the earliest strikes were staged by serfs, who worked in tar, potash, saltpeter, and salt mines, distilleries, and fulling mills owned by landlords or the state. One of the most important strikes occurred in 1798 at the Hlushytsia manufactory. Some 9,000 workers and possessional serfs demanded higher wages and reduced feudal obligations. The protest was suppressed by troops, and its organizers were sentenced to long terms of forced labor. Other major strikes were staged by printers of the Kyivan Cave Monastery (1805) and by the working peasants of the Pysarivka (1817) and Mashiv (1823) woolen-cloth manufactories.
After the emancipation of serfs a large strike took place in 1868 at the Horodok [see Horodok (Khmelnytskyi oblast)] sugar mill in Kamianets-Podilskyi county. In 1870 the construction workers of the Kharkiv railway station went on strike. Strikes in the 1860s and 1870s were concerned with economic questions—low wages and poor working conditions. In 1860–79 there were 52 strikes in Ukraine, involving almost 16,000 workers. Industrial development meant an increase in strikes. In 1880–4 there were 26 strikes, involving 9,000 workers; in 1886–94, 71 strikes, with 20,000 workers; and in 1895–9, 212 strikes, with 120,000 workers. At first the work stoppages were localized, but in time they grew in geographical scope despite police repression. As political opposition to the regime grew, strikers began to raise political demands. The first strike in the Russian Empire to display political slogans took place in Ukraine in 1872.
The economic crisis of 1900–3 resulted in labor unrest that culminated in the first general strike in the Russian Empire. The so-called South Russian general strike demanded the introduction of the eight-hour workday and wage increases. In July and August 1903 it paralyzed almost all Ukraine and involved 150,000 workers. Some 100 workers were killed, 500 were injured, and over 2,000 were arrested. During the 1905–7 revolutionary period (see Revolution of 1905) strikes took place throughout Ukraine, and many of them demanded democratic reforms. In December 1905, political strikes in the Donets Basin escalated into armed revolts. The biggest of them occurred in Horlivka on 30 December 1905.
The peasant strikes that engulfed Poltava gubernia and Kharkiv gubernia in 1902 were particularly serious. They were provoked by high redemption payments, excessive taxes, and the land shortage and were suppressed by troops. Over 800 peasants were arrested and sentenced to prison terms, and 800,000 rubles in fines were transferred to landlords as compensation. During those strikes demands for Ukraine's autonomy were also raised.
Strikes in the period of reaction 1907–10 did not have a mass character. They were mostly protests against deteriorating labor conditions and the erosion of gains won in 1905–7. There were 221 strikes in Ukraine, involving 98,000 workers. The economic recovery, which began in 1910, increased workers' confidence, and the number of strikes rose. In 1910–14 there were 958 strikes, with 323,000 participants.
With the outbreak of the First World War repression against the workers' movement increased, and strikes became rarer. As economic conditions deteriorated and impatience with the war grew, workers resorted to strikes. In 1916 there were 218 strikes in Ukraine, involving over 196,000 workers, mostly in metallurgy and mining. In the summer of 1917 strikes took place throughout Ukraine. As the Russian Empire disintegrated, strikes subsided. The all-Ukrainian railway strike against the German occupation of Ukraine in 1918 was a remarkable political action.
Under the tsarist regime strikes were illegal. An 1845 law treated strikes as revolts against established authority. A secret circular of 6 June 1870 authorized governors to deport strike organizers and leaders to remote parts of the empire. A secret circular of 1897 removed the requirement to allow such cases to be heard in court. Nevertheless, strikes were widely employed to improve working conditions and to force political change. The right to strike was won by the trade-union movement in Ukraine during the Revolution of 1917.
In Western Ukraine the first strikes took place in the 1870s. They were peasant protests against inadequate wages on estates. By 1902, peasant strikes had taken on a mass character. They were organized by Ukrainian political parties and were the first mass peasant strikes in Europe. Smaller strikes took place in 1901–2 in Transcarpathia and Bukovyna (see Peasant strikes in Galicia and Bukovyna). Because Western Ukraine was underdeveloped, urban strikes were rare. The first strikes among urban workers were the printers' strike in Lviv in 1870, the bakers' strike in 1874, and the saddle makers' strike in 1875. In 1895–9 there were 35 strikes in Galicia, involving 3,500 people. The other significant industrial strikes were the 1904 strikes of oil workers in Boryslav and construction workers in Bukovyna. In the interwar period strikes in Western Ukraine (then divided among Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Romania) were rare, because the urban working class was small, and there was widespread unemployment. The largest labor action in that period was the 1921 railway workers' strike in Galicia. There were work stoppages in some Lviv factories in 1929 and 1936 and a strike of forestry workers in Transcarpathia.
In Soviet Ukraine, although there were no laws against strikes, the militarization of labor under War Communism ruled out the right to strike. The Bolshevik-controlled trade unions worked to prevent any attempts to strike. It was argued that it was illogical for workers to strike against their own state. Yet strikes did take place under the Bolshevik regime in Ukraine. In many cases they were led by Mensheviks, who had led the Ukrainian trade unions before they were merged into all-Russian organizations by the Bolsheviks. In 1920–1 the Bolsheviks unleashed a wave of repression against their opponents within the working class and expelled over 200,000 people from the trade unions.
Under the New Economic Policy, strikes were allowed, and trade unions were instructed to obtain a speedy settlement. But Party members could not support strikes. As Joseph Stalin consolidated his power and the regime became totalitarian, strikes were banned as anti-Soviet actions, although there was no legislation against strikes. The Draconian labor laws of the 1930s ruled out any possibility of a strike. The official position was that in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, where the state was controlled by the workers and acted in their interest, there was no social basis for strikes.
After Stalin's death a wave of strikes swept the labor camps of Norilsk (7 May to 2 August 1953), Vorkuta (July–August 1953), and Termir-Tau. Ukrainian political prisoners played a leading role in the strikes. The strikers demanded a shorter workday, of 9 instead of 12 hours, proper food, the removal of informers from the camps, unlimited correspondence with relatives, and guarantees against the arbitrary shooting of prisoners by guards. The strikes were brutally suppressed by the army.
Despite the massive apparatus for repressing discontent and opposition, there were surprisingly many strikes in Ukraine. The regime tended to accept quickly the demands of the strikers to avoid an escalation of the struggle. But once the strike was defused, its organizers were arrested and sentenced to long prison terms. If immediate concessions did not end the strike, force was used. The largest industrial action during Nikita Khrushchev's regime occurred in 1962. It started in Novocherkassk, Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic, and spread quickly to Ukrainian cities, such as Donetsk and Mariupol. Its immediate cause was the announcement of price increases on meat and dairy products. Troops and KGB detachments were called in to suppress the strike, and scores of people were killed. In 1967 the workers of the Kharkiv Tractor Plant walked out, and a workers' protest in Pryluky raised political and national demands. The 1969 strike at the Kyiv Hydroelectric Station was extensively reported in Ukrainian samvydav. During the 1970s many strikes were reported in Ukraine. The largest included actions in Dnipropetrovsk and Dniprodzerzhynsk in September and October 1972. Workers of several factories in Dnipropetrovsk demanded higher wages, better food and living conditions, and the right to choose one's job. In Dniprodzerzhynsk workers rioted and attacked police and Party headquarters in response to police repression. At the end of the 1970s, groups of workers in Ukraine attempted to establish free trade unions. The Association of Free Trade Unions (est 1978) was led by Vladimir Klebanov. One of its central demands was the right to strike. The activists of the group were arrested and incarcerated in special psychiatric hospitals or labor camps.
With the growth of the national and democratic movement in Ukraine in the late 1980s, the regime learned to tolerate strikes. As the economic and political crisis deepened, strikes become a common occurrence. From January to July 1990, 10 million man-days were lost through strikes in the USSR. In the summer of 1989 the workers at many Donbas mines went on strike. The strike committees that led and co-ordinated the actions became the nuclei of new trade unions. The strikers set forth a wide range of demands: higher wages, better food, improved safety, and the removal of Party organizations from the workplace. From 1989, strikers in Ukraine also raised political demands. Workers in Western Ukraine used strikes to defend democratic rights and national independence. Strikers demanded radical changes in labor legislation, including guarantees of the right to strike. In August 1989 the USSR Supreme Soviet passed the first law on strikes. That highly restrictive law permitted strikes only after the conciliation commission and the court of labor arbitration had failed to settle disagreements between labor and management. Strikes had to be approved by a majority of the general meeting consisting of at least three-quarters of the workers' collective. Management had to be given five days' notice of a strike. The Union or a republican supreme soviet or its presidium could postpone a strike or suspend it for a period of up to two months. sStrikes in support of unconstitutional demands were illegal. Strikes in ‘essential’ sectors of the economy were not allowed. Strikers were entitled to state social insurance and pay from strike funds. Although the law did not permit political strikes, work stoppages in support of national and democratic demands occurred. In October 1990, strikes against the signing of a new union treaty took place in many cities of Ukraine. The strikers also demanded military service only on Ukrainian territory; the immediate closure of the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Station; the removal of the Party and the KGB from the army, government, and factories; workers' ownership of the factories and enterprises; and the nationalization of the Party's property.
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[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 5 (1993).]