IG’s Peace Blog

Peace and its many aspects

Living through a general strike

Where I live we are in the second week of a general strike.  Most businesses and local government administrations are paralyzed.  Gas stations are closed till further notice.  Schools are closed till further notice.  The particular circumstances that gave rise to this movement derive from both the current global financial crisis and the longer term history of the region (I think this is probably the case for all major social crises) and I don’t want to discuss them here.

However, the strike has gotten me thinking about the broader issue of unions, labor relations, class conflict, etc…and how all these factors are affected by globalization.  Watching what is going on locally, and having lived through some other long term strikes elsewhere, it seems to me that two elements are essential to get past such crises and to ultimately reduce their frequency.  First, what the Europeans call the “social partners”–unions, owners and government–have to have a working relationship of trust, and good channels of communication.   However, the history of industrial relations in many countries has led to a high level of (often deserved) mistrust.  Again, the past weighs heavily on the present.  Secondly, once there is a minimum of trust, there has to be a shift in mindset from the problem being the other side, to the problem being the conditions that produced the crisis.  As Fischer and Ury have elaborated in detail, you have to separate people from issues.  You can think of this as moving away from one group being on one side of the table confronting the other group on the other side of the table, to having both groups on the same side of the table facing a statement of the issues to be resolved.

This, and related ideas and techniques, are important because they show there is never a real impasse unless one or both sides wants there to be an impasse.  There is always a way forward.  However, if one or both sides sees the conflict as zero sum–what I win you lose, and vice versa–then power relations will be the determining factor.  In the short run the more powerful side will prevail, probably causing havoc in the meantime, giving rise to resentment on the part of the losers, and thus setting the stage for subsequent rounds of confrontation when the losers have regrouped.  It is hard to see how society will benefit from this over the long run (I acknowledge that the Marxists have a different perspective, but that would be too long to discuss in this post).

So, like so many other issues, real conflict resolution and real peace among the actors, depends on good faith and an understanding that we are “in this thing together”.  If there is long history of distrust, time will inevitably have to be invested in confidence building and even reconciliation in extreme cases, before all can move forward together.  To me this indicates that peace among the social partners is possible, but that there are no shortcuts since, as in so many areas, past conflict and violence have created a climate of insecurity and hostility that has to be diffused before real and lasting solutions to concrete problems can be found.


January 27, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , ,

1 Comment »

  1. […] its implications for peace and conflict resolution.  Well, as I sit here during fifth week of a general strike, I have been thinking about some of these ideas again.  One of the problem involved with the […]

    Pingback by Burton redux « IG’s Peace Blog | February 19, 2009 | Reply

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