Author Patricia Nicol reveals a selection of the best books on: Strikes

Author Patricia Nicol reveals a selection of the best books on: Strikes

I had to travel from London to Edinburgh and back last Tuesday. It was the day before the rail strike, but the usual chaos prevailed — power problems near Peterborough this time. If it is not one thing, it is another. 

There are three more days of planned industrial action this summer. And it is not just rail workers. Postal workers have voted to strike. Criminal barristers have been protesting over pay, too. 

We all grumble about the disruption. But as a self-employed person, I rather envy those who can stand together with colleagues to make their case. 

Fiction — from the great 19thcentury novels, such as Emile Zola’s Germinal and Elizabeth Gaskell’s North And South to 20th-century classics like John Steinbeck’s The Grapes Of Wrath — is very much on the workers’ side. In fact, I cannot think of a single novel (certainly not one that is still read and celebrated) that is more sympathetic to the bosses than the working poor. 

Lissa Evans' Old Baggage

David Peace's GB84

British author Patricia Nicol has rounded up a selection of the best books on strikes including David Peace’s GB84 and Lissa Evans’ Old Baggage

The dangers of living in a country where companies can bully the authorities to run roughshod over human rights is portrayed in one of the most harrowing episodes of Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years Of Solitude. 

The massacre described, in which the Colombian army opens fire on striking banana workers, is based on historic events at a United Fruit Company plantation in 1928. 

I was reminded of David Peace’s GB84 while watching the BBC drama Sherwood. His novel imaginatively recounts the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike from the politically oppositional perspectives of a union leader and an adviser to Margaret Thatcher. 

Some rights we now take for granted were hastened by direct action. The redoubtable protagonist of Lissa Evans’ Old Baggage is Mattie, a former militant suffragette. Attending Emmeline Pankhurst’s funeral, she wears her prized campaign medals: ones that commemorate her hunger strikes, protests and incarcerations. 

But this is a novel set in 1928. The question for Mattie is, what comes after the fight of your life?

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