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direct action

direct action, theory and methods used by certain labor groups to fight employers, capitalist institutions, and the state by direct economic action, without using intermediate organizations. Political measures, such as arbitration, collective bargaining, and trade agreements, are rejected as ineffective. According to the theory, workers, acting as a class, are in a position to exert pressure on capitalist institutions to secure rights. Such measures as the strike, the general strike, the boycott, and sabotage—frequently accompanied by physical violence—are the preferred methods for labor disputes; propaganda and agitation are employed against the government. The specific reforms gained are seen as steps toward the ultimate revolution and toward abolition of capitalism. The theory was developed with the rise of the labor movement in the 19th cent. and was formulated as a definite policy in the early 20th cent. by anti-Marxist radical groups, notably proponents of syndicalism. The method was used in France and spread to other European countries. In the United States the Industrial Workers of the World advocated it.

See W. Mellor, Direct Action (1920); L. L. Lorwin, Labor and Internationalism (1929).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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