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Solidarity action (also known as secondary action, a boycott, or a sympathy strike) is industrial action by a trade union in support of a strike initiated by workers in another, separate enterprise. The term "secondary action" is often used with the intention of distinguishing different types of trade dispute with a worker's direct employer. Thus, it may be used to refer to a dispute with the employer's parent company, its suppliers, financiers, contracting parties, or any other employer in another industry.
In most countries, there are limits on the purposes for which people may go on strike, and in many English-speaking nations, restrictions have been placed against which organizations trade unions may strike.
British and American workers can strike usually only against their direct employer. In Continental Europe, solidarity action is generally lawful, and the right to strike is seen as a part of broader political freedom.
In Australia, secondary boycotts are prohibited by the Competition and Consumer Act 2010. In the 1910s, sympathy strikes were sometimes called to extend a strike beyond the bounds of an Australian state to make it eligible for handling by the Federal Arbitration Court.
In the United Kingdom, sympathy strikes were outlawed by the Trade Disputes and Trade Union Act of 1927 in the aftermath of the general strike. That was repealed by the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act 1946, passed by the postwar Labour Government.
Solidarity action remained legal until 1980, when the government of Margaret Thatcher passed the Employment Act 1980 to restrict it. That was followed by the Employment Act 1990, which outlawed solidarity action entirely. The laws outlawing solidarity strikes remain to this day.
In 2005, union leaders called for the legalization of solidarity strikes in the aftermath of the strike action against the catering company Gate Gourmet, but Labour ministers stated that they had no intention of repealing the law. British Airways staff waled out in solidarity, however.
Because farm labourers in the United States are not covered by the Wagner Act, the United Farm Workers union has legally used solidarity boycotting of grocery store chains to aid to its strikes against California agribusiness and its primary boycotts of California grapes, lettuce and wine. Its secondary boycotts involved asking consumers to stop shopping at a grocery store chain until the chain stopped carrying the boycotted grapes, lettuce, or wine.
Secondary boycotting is frequently confused with secondary striking, also a prohibited tactic for labour unions covered by the Taft-Hartley Act. Some legal definitions for secondary boycotting divide it into two different kinds: secondary consumer boycotts according to the above definition of secondary boycotts, and secondary employee boycotts, also defined as a secondary strike.
- See H Collins, KD Ewing and A McColgan, Labour Law (2012) 693
- Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth), sections 45D to 45DD.
- M Kite and T Freinberg, 'Unions to Challenge Blair Over Ban on Secondary Strikes' (Daily Telegraph, 27 August 2005).