A social psychological analysis of strikes
A participant observation method was employed :in the study of a 20-week stoppage at Ansells Brewery Limited, a constituent company of Allied Breweries (U.K.). The strike, :involving 1,000 workers, began :in opposition to the implementation of a four-day working week and culminated in the permanent closure of the brewery. The three main phases of the strike's development (i.e., its :initiation, maintenance and termination) were analysed according to a social-cognitive approach, based on the psychological imagery, beliefs, values and perceptions underlying the employees' behaviour. Previous psychological treatments of strikes have tended to ignore many of the aspects of social definition, planning and coordination that are an integral part of industrial action. The present study is, therefore, unique in concentrating on the thought processes by which striking workers .make sense of their current situation and collectively formulate an appropriate response. The Ansells strike provides an especially vivid illustration of the ways in which the seminal insights of a small number of individuals are developed, via processes of communication and:influence, into a consensual interpretation of reality. By adopting a historical perspective, it has been possible to demonstrate how contemporary definitions are shaped by the prior history of union-management relations, particularly with regard to: (a) the way that previous events were subjectively interpreted, and (b) the lessons that were learned on the basis of that experience. The present approach is psychological insofar as it deals with the cognitive elements of strike action. However, to the extent that it draws from relevant sections of the industrial relations, organizational behaviour, sociology, anthropology and linguistics literatures, it can claim to be truly interdisciplinary.