When Does the Public Support Striking Employees?

Topic(s): organizational justice
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Third party support for strike action
Authors: E.K. Kelloway, L. Francis, V.M Catano, K.E. Dupré
Reviewed by: Rob Stilson

Strikes have been assessed from the point of view of the two parties involved, but rarely has a third-party perspective been considered. In this article which contains two studies, researchers (Kelloway et al., 2008) did just that. The first study concerns a teacher’s union ready to strike and the second study involves an actual strike among public employees.

The authors break down the predictors of third-party support as follows: (1) Perceived injustice – do they feel the workers are being treated unfairly? (2) Identification – are they pro union? (3) Perceived instrumentality – if they involve themselves in supporting the strike, will this help contribute to change?


In the first study, a grade school teachers union had entered into a 7-day mediation period with the government to try to avert a strike. During this period, questionnaires were given to university staff and students and their friends and family when possible. The strike was averted and that is when data collection ended. The questionnaire comprised scales of strike support, union attitudes, personal impact, and procedural and distributive justice. The results indicated third-party support for strikes was predicted by perceptions of distributive justice (how fairly resources are allocated). Also females, older individuals, and pro-union people were more likely to be supportive of strikes.

Because the study was conducted with students, the authors performed another study that took place during an actual strike with a more representative sample. Study 2 took place during a month long strike and questionnaires were gathered from a much more representative sample. The questionnaires were essentially the same as Study 1 with the addition of a perceived instrumentality of participation measure and a scale to assess how well-informed the participant was of the issues and circumstances surrounding the strike. The results of study 2 largely replicate the findings of Study 1, with the addition of demonstrating that people who perceived that they could have an impact on the strike (e.g., being supportive, not crossing picket lines, etc.) actually engaged in more support behavior.


One take-home message from all of this is perceived injustice can influence third-party support regardless of pre-existing attitudes (e.g., anti-union) and this may provide some direction for future organizational justice research. Another is that unions may want to work on their image in the public, as union support has been waning for decades now. Putting a more positive image out there with the public may prove beneficial down the line.