Beyond History Blog

„We are hungry!“ – 3200 years of strike

Andrea Bentschneider - 23. June 2015 - Anniversary, General, Historical Events, History, Knowledge

The trains were late, kindergartens were closed and now mail services are slow: The year 2015 seems to be the year of strikes in Germany. While strikes always are a pain for everyone relying on public transport, childcare and the like, they seem to be crucial when it comes to negotiations over fair working conditions.

I always thought strikes derived from the worker’s movements of the 19th century, but far from it! Apparently historical evidence shows that the first strike actually took place on 04 November 1159 BC! In the 29th year of regency of pharaoh Ramses III the workers that were to build the tombs in the Valley of Kings in Western Thebes put down their work to protest not having been paid for 18 days. A papyrus with the claim “We are hungry!” can still be seen at the Egyptian museum in Turin/Italy and tells us of the grain payments that were not made. So even in old Egypt, people knew how to make their boss pay their wages…

Since then, strikes made their way through history. The first strike of the Holy Roman Empire was in 1329, when the 'Guertler' fellows put down their work for no less than a year. Guertlers are, by the way, metal craftsmen that produce decorations, metal fittings and the like.

When Germany became an industrial nation in the end of the 19th century, strikes became a mass phenomenon in the workers’ fight for better working conditions. Without them, a great part of our worker protection laws of today would never have come into action…

What does that tell us? Strikes are inconvenient, but necessary. And they always were! Maybe looking at the bigger picture helps with the patience while waiting for the mail. And anyway, no mail means no bills!

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