“Flight” of Workers

Through the centuries, there have been many times that groups of people used flight and cessation of work by leaving their jobs, their homes, or their countries, to demonstrate to the opponent, the degree of unity and self-discipline a populace can have to make an impact on the rulings and behaviors of their opponent.

Some examples are ancient Egypt, when they used a combination of flight and sanctuary and would seek the protection of gods and go to the temples. Temples, churches and other holy places have frequently been such places of refuge. When groups of people flee to a holy institution, they cannot be touched without violation of religious, moral, social or legal prohibitions. Such violation would in turn, put the opponent in a new and difficult situation. During 1968 the idea of flight to sanctuary which included churches and universities, was revived in the United States within the context of resistance to military draft.

Russian workers of the 1860s and 1870s sometimes rebelled against extremely severe working conditions by collectively leaving their jobs and returning to peasant life. One of the most serious cases involved not so much abstention from work, but as flight or desertion among men digging the New Canal at Ladoga Lake in Russia. In one case, at least fifty workers were flogged for leaving their work. For some, this quickly ended the protests.

The method continued to be used for some years not as a means by which individuals changed jobs, but rather as a means for collective resistance. Between 1870 and 1879 in the Russian Empire, there were forty-nine cases in which desertion of work was carried out in an organized way.

Temporary or permanent flight was used by African slaves in the United States. The importance of flight in the slave struggle played a role in producing bargaining: Slaves would flee to swamps or forests and send back word that only if their demands – perhaps for better food, fewer beatings, shorter hours – were met or at least discussed, would they willingly return. African slaves in the United States also undertook flight as a means of full escape from slavery by leaving slave territory. In 1730 many slaves escaped into the Spanish territory of Florida where they had been promised, and received, freedom under Spanish law, and would be permitted to live there as freemen. During the Civil War some slaves added a new demand for returning as a soldier, the payment of money wages.

Continue reading the 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action.

Also check out The Politics of Nonviolent Action Part One / Part Two / Part Three.

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