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

Author Patricia Nicol unveils 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 railway strike, but the usual chaos reigned—electricity problems near Peterborough this time. If it’s not one thing, it’s another.

There are three more days of industrial action planned this summer. And it’s not just the railway workers. The postal workers voted to strike. Criminal lawyers also protested the salary.

We all complain about the disruption. But as an independent, I rather envy those who can stick together with their colleagues to defend their cause.

Fiction – from great 19th-century 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 worker-friendly. In fact, I can’t think of a single novel (certainly not one still read and celebrated) that is more sympathetic to the bosses than to the working poor.

GB84 by David Peace

British author Patricia Nicol has put together a selection of the best books on strikes, including GB84 by David Peace and Old Baggage by Lissa Evans.

The dangers of living in a country where corporations can intimidate authorities into flouting human rights are portrayed in one of the most poignant episodes of One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez.

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

I remembered David Peace’s GB84 while watching the BBC drama Sherwood. His novel imaginatively recounts the 1984-85 miners’ strike from the politically opposed perspective of a union leader and an adviser to Margaret Thatcher.

Some rights we now take for granted have been accelerated through direct action. The fearsome protagonist of Lissa Evans’ Old Baggage is Mattie, a militant former suffragette. At Emmeline Pankhurst’s funeral, she wears her precious campaign medals: those commemorating her hunger strikes, demonstrations and incarcerations.

But it’s a novel set in 1928. The question for Mattie is: what happens after the fight of your life?

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