The Rise of Public Sector Employee Strikes in Africa: Should We Be worried?




employee strikes, public sector, workplace militancy, Sub-Saharan Africa


In this article, I explore the rising waves of workplace militancy in the public sector in sub-Saharan Africa. As a purely qualitative study, the research involved in-depth interviews with Ugandan teachers at public schools and lecturers at public universities who have been persistently involved in a series of strike activities. It also included a detailed documentary analysis and a review of related empirical literature. The findings indicated that strike activity is not only shifting from the private to the public sector, but also that the repertoire of strike tactics available to public employees has become so diverse that some actions might not be easily discernible as industrial action. These included actions similar to what has been described in German as “Innere Kündigung” (inner resignation) and “Dienst nach Vorschrift” (work to rule). Interestingly, the findings also suggested that public employee strikes have some positive value that could be harnessed for the greater good of public service delivery and that strict restrictions on public sector strikes could be counterproductive.


Metrics Loading ...


Akkerman, A., Born, M. J., & Torenvlied, R. (2013). Solidarity, strikes, and scabs: How participation norms affect union members’ willingness to strike. Work and Occupations, 40(3), 250–280.

AllAfrica News. (2012, 7 November). Uganda police wives protest over living conditions. In Focus.

Aremu, Y. S., Salako, M. A., Lawrence, A., & Ayelotan, O. I. (2015). Implication of academic staff union strike action on students’ academic performance: Ex-post-facto evidence from University of Lagos, Akoka, Nigeria. Global Journal of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, 3(8), 12–24.

Bauernschuster, S., Hener, T., & Rainer, H. (2017). When labor disputes bring cities to a standstill: The impact of public transit strikes on traffic, accidents, air pollution, and health. American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, 9(1), 1–37.

Blackburn, D. (2018). Focus: Trade unions and democracy in Egypt. International Union Rights, 25(2), 10–12.

Brinkmann, R. D., & Stapf, K. H. (2005). Innere Kündigung: Wenn der Job zur Fassade wird. München: CH Beck.

Cooke, S. T. (1983). A management view—The Canadian postal system. In B. D. Dennis (Ed.), Industrial Relations Research Series (pp. 94–101). Proceedings of the 35th Annual Meeting. Madison, WI.

Cramer, K. J. (2016). The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Dahir, A. L. (2016, 2 November). One of Africa’s oldest universities is closed after student and staff unrest. Quartz Africa.

Dribbusch, H. (2016). Organizing through conflict: Exploring the relationship between strikes and union membership in Germany. Transfer: European Review of Labour and Research, 22(3), 347–365.

Education International. (2013, 18 September) Uganda: Teachers strike over failure to receive salary increments. Standards and working conditions.

Elstad, E. (2016). Industrial action involving teachers’ unions in Norway and Denmark: Comparing bargaining trends and outcomes. Nordic Journal of Studies in Educational Policy, 2016(1), 31165.

Fleming P., & Spicer, A. (2007). Contesting the Corporation: Struggle, Power and Resistance in Organizations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Fowler, J. L., Gudmundsson, A. J., & Whicker, L. M. (2009). The psychological impact of industrial strikes: Does involvement in union activity during strikes make a difference? Journal of Industrial Relations, 51(2), 227–243.

Gall, G. (1999). A review of strike activity in Western Europe at the end of the second millennium. Employee Relations, 21(4), 357–377.

Gall, G. (2014). New forms of labour conflict: A transnational overview. In M. Atzeni (Ed.), Workers and Labour in a Globalised Capitalism. Contemporary Themes and Theoretical Issues (pp. 210–229). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Gall, G., & Hebdon, R. (2008) Conflict at work. In N. Bacon, P. Blyton, J. Fiorito & E. Heery (Eds.), Sage Handbook of Employment and Industrial Relations (pp. 588–605). London: Sage.

Gentile, A. (2015). Labor repertoires, neoliberal regimes and US hegemony: What “deviant” Italy tells us of OECD unions’ paths to power. European Political Science Review, 7(2), 243–270.

Godard, J. (2011). What has happened to strikes? British Journal of Industrial Relations, 49(2), 282–305.

Grant, D. S., & Wallace, M. (1991). Why do strikes turn violent? American Journal of Sociology, 96(5), 1117–1150.

Groenewald, T. (2004). A phenomenological research design illustrated. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 3(1), 42–55.

Gunderson, M. (2005). Two faces of union voice in the public sector. Journal of Labor Research, 26(3), 393–413.

Haque, M. S. (2000). Threats to public workplace democracy. Peace Review, 12(2), 237–241.

Hatcher, T. (2007). Workplace Democracy: A Review of Literature and Implications for Human Resource Development. [Paper presentation]. The International Research Conference in the Americas of the Academy of Human Resource Development, Indianapolis, 28 February–4 March 2007.

Hebdon, R. (1998). Behavioural determinants of public sector illegal strikes: Cases from Canada and the US. Relations Industrielles/Industrial Relations, 53(4), 623–781.

Hebdon, R., & Stern, R. (2003). Do public‐sector strike bans really prevent conflict? Industrial Relations: A Journal of Economy and Society, 42(3), 493–512.

Heckscher, C., & McCarthy, J. (2014). Transient solidarities: Commitment and collective action in post‐industrial societies. British Journal of Industrial Relations, 52(4), 627–657.

Hertel-Fernandez, A., Naidu, S., & Reich, A. (2021). Schooled by strikes? The effects of large-scale labor unrest on mass attitudes toward the labor movement. Perspectives on Politics, 19(1), 73–91.

Hyman, R. (1972). Strikes. Glasgow: Fontana/Collins.

Hyman, R. (2015). Austeritarianism in Europe: What options for resistance? In D. Natali & B. Vanhercke (Eds.), Social Policy in the European Union: State of Play 2015 (pp. 97–126). Brussels: ETUI/OSE.

International Labour Organization. (2006). Freedom of Association: Digest of decisions and principles of the Freedom of Association Committee of the Governing Body of the ILO (5th ed.). Geneva: International Labour Office.

Kamau, A. W. (2012). Labor strikes are becoming a rising concern across Africa. Washington: The Brookings Institution.

Kambasu, O. (2021). Rationalising industrial action: How Ugandan public school teachers and public university lecturers explain their engagement in industrial action. Employee Relations, 43(5), 1163–1177.

Kane, J. V., & Newman, B. J. (2019). Organized labor as the new undeserving rich?: Mass media, class-based anti-union rhetoric and public support for unions in the United States. British Journal of Political Science, 49(3), 997–1026.

Kasuka, B. (2013). Prominent African Leaders Since Independence. Dar es Salaam: New Africa Press.

Kawugana, A. (2016). The impact of incessant strikes on the education sector in Nigeria. International Journal of Education and Evaluation, 2(5), 67–71.

Kelly, J. (2015). Conflict: Trends and forms of collective action. Employee Relations, 37(6), 720–732.

Kelly, J., & Hamann, K. (2010). The puzzle of trade union strength in Western Europe since 1980. Indian Journal of Industrial Relations, 45(4), 646–657.

Kersley, B., Alpin, C., Forth, J., Bryson, A., Bewley, H., Dix, G., & Oxenbridge, S. (2005). Inside the Workplace: Findings from the 2004 Workplace Employment Relations Survey. London: DTI.

Mabhoyi, L. C. (2020). Labour relations among Zimbabwean teachers: Wellbeing and the challenges of professionalism. International Journal of Teaching and Education, 8(2), 53–76.

Malaba, T. (2012, 10 November). Policemen being investigated over wives’ demo. Uganda Radio Network.

Mayring, P. (2014). Qualitative Content Analysis: Theoretical Foundation, Basic Procedures and Software Solution. Klagenfurt.

McCartin, J. A. (2008). Turnabout years: Public sector unionism and the fiscal crisis. In B. J. Schulman & J. E. Zelizer (Eds.), Rightward Bound: Making America Conservative in the 1970s (pp. 210–226). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

McHugh, R. (1991). Productivity effects of strikes in struck and nonstruck industries. ILR Review, 44(4), 722–732.

Milkman, R. (2013). Back to the future? US labour in the new gilded age. British Journal of Industrial Relations, 51(4), 645–665.

Miller, B., & Canak, W. (1995). There should be no blanket guarantee: Employers’ reactions to public employee unionism, c. 1965–1975. Journal of Collective Negotiations in the Public Sector, 24, 17.

Namara, R. B., & Kasaija, J. (2016). Teachers’ protest movements and prospects for teachers improved welfare in Uganda. Journal of Education and Training Studies, 4(5), 149–159.

Ojok, L. (2016). Organisational Factors Influencing Strikes in Institutions of Higher Learning in Uganda: A Case of Kyambogo University [Master’s dissertation, Uganda Management Institute].

Oleribe, O. O., Ezieme, I. P., Oladipo, O., Akinola, E. P., Udofia, D., & Taylor-Robinson, S. D. (2016). Industrial action by healthcare workers in Nigeria in 2013–2015: An inquiry into causes, consequences and control—A cross-sectional descriptive study. Human Resources for Health, 14, 1–10.

Osakede, K. O., & Ijimakinwa, S. A. (2014). The effect of public sector health care workers strike: Nigeria experience. Review of Public Administration and Management, 3(6), 154–161.

Patton, M. Q. (2015). Qualitative Research and Evaluation Methods: Integrating Theory and Practice (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Pinder, C. C., & Harlos, K. P. (2001). Employee silence: Quiescence and acquiescence as responses to perceived injustice. In M. Buckley, J. Halbesleben & A. R. Wheeler (Eds.), Research in Personnel and Human Resources Management, Vol. 20 (pp. 331–369). Bingley: Emerald.

Posusney, M. P. (1993). Irrational workers: The moral economy of labor protest in Egypt. World Politics, 46(1), 83–120.

Prior, L. (2016). Using documents in social research. In D. Silverman (Ed.), Qualitative Research (4th ed., pp. 171–185). London: Sage.

Saunders, R. (2001). Striking ahead: Industrial action and labour movement development in Zimbabwe. In B. Raftopoulos & L. Sachikonye (Eds.), Striking Back: The Labour Movement and the Post-Colonial State in Zimbabwe 1980–2000 (pp. 133–173). Harare: Weaver Press.

Scott, J. (1985). Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Tenza, M. (2020). The effects of violent strikes on the economy of a developing country: A case of South Africa. Obiter, 41(3), 519–537.

The Daily Monitor. (2019, 16 June). Teachers’ strikes: Why is it all promises and little action? News.

Thörnqvist, C. (2007). Changing industrial relations in the Swedish public sector: New tensions within the old framework of corporatism. International Journal of Public Sector Management, 20(1), 16–33.

Tucker, E. (2009). Street railway strikes, collective violence, and the Canadian state, 1886–1914. In B. Wright & S. Binnie (Eds.), Canadian State Trials, Vol. III (pp. 257–293). Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Vandaele, K. (2016). Interpreting strike activity in western Europe in the past 20 years: The labour repertoire under pressure. Transfer: European Review of Labour and Research, 22(3), 277–294.

Wallace, M., Leicht, K. T., & Raffalovich, L. E. (1999). Unions, strikes, and labor’s share of income: A quarterly analysis of the United States, 1949–1992. Social Science Research, 28(3), 265–288.

Wettstein, F., & Beschorner, T. (2011). Compliance management—und jenseits von “Dienst nach Vorschrift”. CSR Magazin, 1(4), 44–45.

Wright, B. E. (2001). Public-sector work motivation: A review of the current literature and a revised conceptual model. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 11(4), 559–586.

Zoll, R. (2001). Le défi de la solidarité organique: Avons-nous besoin de nouvelles institutions pour préserver la cohésion sociale? Revue du Mauss, 18(2), 105–118.



How to Cite

Kambasu, O. (2023). The Rise of Public Sector Employee Strikes in Africa: Should We Be worried?. African Journal of Employee Relations, 47, 19 pages .