Why won't Czech workers take stronger strike action?

21-04-2004

Czech civil servants went on strike on Wednesday morning for just one hour. All-out strikes are almost unheard of in the Czech Republic, where dissatisfied workers sometimes go on "strike alert", basically a warning that they might think about striking if employers don't meet their demands. But why are Czech workers so reluctant to take stronger action? Commentator Vaclav Zak says it's largely because there is no tradition of striking in this country

Strike, photo: CTKStrike, photo: CTK "You must be accustomed to striking, and the people are in many ways afraid. When I speak with people they tell me they are in many ways more afraid than they were under the Communists, because under the Communists you could only have conflict with the regime, with the secret police.

"Now people are afraid they will lose their jobs if they say something their boss doesn't like. So people are afraid, that's the reason why strikes are so very weak."

US-born pundit Martin Stransky, meanwhile, points to another reason that Czechs are reluctant to go on strike. He suggests it is connected with their national character.

"The Czechs have 'alibism' as a national genetic trait, and one can see - in comparison to other European countries or the States - just how reluctant they are to really stand up and put their feet on the sidewalk, as opposed to going to work.

"And this has the deep historical roots of the Hapsburgs and the Communists: one was really punished for voicing one's opinion. At the same time there was a traditional disdain of all institutions which continues and is deeply felt to this day.

"So there's a feeling that if I do go on strike it's really not going to change anything because the distance between them and me is so great."

For his part, Vaclav Zak says he's uncomfortable with the very idea of national character, and says attitudes to striking can simply reflect a country's political reality.

"I think there are rational reasons why Czechs do not strike. Compare England from the 70s and England from the 90s and you wouldn't say the English character has changed, simply strikes are not effective."

Another reason Czech workers are reluctant to down tools and take to the streets is the weakness of the country's trade unions.

"Trade unions were used by the Communists as their tools, so the problem is that we do not have still strong trade unions. And the trade union movement must be united and strong, but now there are quarrels within the trade union movement, there are many enterprises where there are no trade unions at all, especially in small enterprises.

"So the situation there can be really very bad, because the people there have no protection, etceteras, but it will improve in time, I think."

21-04-2004

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