It's subtly ingrained in us from childhood that a strike is the action of a union - the subtleties and complexities that end in strike are well hidden from us (even if we were interested).
This point is well-taken. When i was young, and based on what i've read about the history of organized labor in the United States, people once understood that unions went on strike for better wages and for decent pay--and that whether or not they got that depended upon the employer, who was just as responsible for the strike action as was the union
. People once both understood why the unions took strike action (and often approved of it), and understood that their own pay and working conditions were favorably affected by union action. When i was a boy, many (most?) working men and women lived through the era of the really nasty labor actions in the 1930s--they knew first hand how union action had affected their lives for the better. When many of them entered the work force, there was no fair labor standards act, there was no unemployment compensation, there was no workman's compensation, there were no disability programs (Jack London observed--a close paraphrase here--that injury is the rock upon which the barqure of the working man is wrecked), there were no workplace health and safety laws. People knew how profound the influence of labor had been on their lives.
Most people alive today do not necessarily know these things. Beginning with the unsavory reputation of the Teamsters, paired in the public mind with organized crime, and running through the very public union busting of the Reagan administration, unions have been successfully demonized of those whose interests are served by that image. In Arthur Conan Doyle's The Valley of Fear
, the hero is an undercover plant from Pinkerton's, and the villians (real thugs--you wonder when they had time to dig coal) are the conspirators of organized labor. England had laws prohibiting "combinations," essentially outlawing trades unions. No one prosecuted capital under the combinations act when they dined together, met at concerts or at the theater, and fixed prices and wages, and blacklisted workers known or simply thought to be labor organizers. In 1819, at St. Peters Fields near Manchester, labor organizers convened a "monster meeting" to discuss parliamentary reform (understanding what it would take to better their conditions), which did not violate the combinations act, as long as they didn't discuss labor conditions and organizing. The city fathers of Manchester panicked nonetheless, the crowd (men, women and children--it had been a family day, a monster picnic as much as a monster meeting) numbering in the thousands. Dragoons charged the crowd and ten to 20 were killed and hundreds wounded--it became known as the "Peterloo" massacre, in a sneer at the arch-Tory, the Duke of Wellington.
From the earliest days, organized labor fought an uphill battle, and fought a hostile public as well as hostile capital. It seems that there was a brief period of halcyon days when organized labor was understood and appreciated--before capital resumed its campaign of slander and attack.