A 10% strike by the 99%?

Being Human, Collaboration, General, Geopolitics, Money, Politics, Society, Sustainability, Systems thinking, Time

This is a work in progress. I first wrote it after Copenhagen failed to agree anything, and am in the process of updating and amending for the Occupy movement. Please get in touch if interested.


Sigh. Where to begin? Broadly speaking, however..

  • Most of our critical anatomy was never designed for the world we find ourselves living in.
  • The economic, political, social, and environmental structures we invented to facilitate our lives are struggling to deliver the outcomes we need to navigate the 21st century in a peaceable and civilised manner. E.g:
    • Economic: despite collosal bailouts leading to pernicious cuts, we are still mired in economic crisis and dangerous imbalance.
    • Political: one minute Gadaffi is our friend, the next he is the enemy of the people. Where is the integrity?
    • Social: we work harder than ever, yet real standard of life has not improved; and wealth and power is increasingly concentrated.
    • Environmental: despite agreement for the need for urgent action, there is no urgent action.
  • This is no surprise: the world has changed hugely. 7 billion+ people, lightspeed communication, and approaching the limits of a finite planet is bound to have an effect.
  • Unconscionable behaviour is expected of us if we are to comply with common “normality”.
  • Patching up the system is becoming increasingly expensive and futile.
  • Governments fail to take sufficient action due to apparent lack of support from the populace.

What can be done? What does it do?

  1. Write to your MP –> lets them know there are votes in it but is also very ignorable (3/10)
  2. Occupy stuff / Go on a march –> says there’s votes and media in it, but also it’s the same old crowd doing something silly 6/10. In fact, look what good it did in Iraq.. so maybe 5/10
  3. Burn some cars –> says there are penalties for not listening, and frustration has reached a high. But illegal and easily frowned upon. 2/10.

What we need is something which…

  • doesn’t inconvenience the public
  • gets press attention
  • people – and companies, crucially – want to / can be seen to be a part of
  • encourages people to address 21st century issues
  • doesn’t involve burning stuff, guns, or martyrdom

A suggested answer

Go on Strike!

We know this can work, because it’s one of the few things in history which has. If you stop following a leader, they become a lone idiot. So let’s just all stop. We no longer think you’re leading us in the right direction. We have utterly lost faith in your ability, dear Government, to do the right thing.

The goal here is NOT to punish employers. The goal is to send a message to the government, and to acknowledge to each other as a society, that the game has changed, and that we would like to do change the way we play it.

We are, in fact, looking to our employers to be our saviours here (…since the government are refusing to do their jobs properly). We are looking to them to help us live the better lives that we want to. We would like to work in allegiance with our employers to help make our world’s better. Whilst we are going to come to work 10% less, we will strive to ensure this has minimal impact on the employer.

#4DW or #9DF ?

My original thinking here was have a 4 day work week (which has some precedent with the 1970s 3 day week, but now I see also has environmental support already. However, whilst potent, it’s unlikely to win friends with employers.

So how about a nine day fortnight instead? This tallies nicely with the 1010 campaign, in that if GDP and CO2 are intrinsically linked, then by working 10% less, we will make it easier to hit out 10% targets.

However, Denmark has divorced GDP from Energy Consumption and C02. Reducing GDP is not really the aim yet…

What do people with with the extra day?

Essentially, whatever they want to. However they will be encouraged to do something which is good for their environment (social or ecological). (Employers might like to make it part of the deal of letting it happen in the first place.) It could be nice to stipulate that

  • no money can change hands
  • unwelcome environmental impact should be minimised

This is great, because it gets people thinking about how value is genuinely created in an economy, too, and means we can get the ideas of Douthwaite and friends more widely known about.

On the website we would need to

  • amass a list of other things that people can do, eg Volunteer groups
  • create an ideas submission (by twitter, too) place
  • create a directory of where and when people can help


  • The goal of the 1010 campaign is to reduce CO2 emissions by 10% in 2010. By working 10% less, we help this happen, since there is a direct correlation between CO2 and GDP
  • People will want to get behind it – even those who don’t care much about climate change. But once they start having those conversations, they will know more, and will almost inevitably begin to care more as they learn

What do we ask people to agree to?

There is a paradox in that we want to strike to send a message to the Govt, not to damage our employers. We are looking to them to take a lead where Govt fails. But if the employers fail to get on board, then we are toothless if we don’t then strike.

So essentially we’re saying to employers, “You can do this the easy way, or the hard way.”

Those who choose the hard way will be inconvenienced, and will put pressure on the Government to do better.

Those who move to a 9DF will gain employee loyalty and not see (much) fall in productivity. (In fact many companies report gains – but bear with me, I’m still amassing figures on this.)

Thus it needs to be phrase and positioned in such a way that the commitment people agree to minimises repercussions for the employers, but makes it painful enough to compel the govt to act.

Whilst linking it to Copenhagen makes sense, this is not just an environmental pledge, and it will have more takers if it can be propositioned more broadly. However there is now a legal precedent for respecting environmental beliefs, which might make it stronger legally.

What pledge would you ask people to agree to to meet these slightly paradoxical aims?

Making it real

I’m better at ideas than at reality, so please help here, especially!

Everyone who cooperates benefits

Much like the lots of societal actions, everyone who cooperates and agrees benefits. Everyone who doesn’t, doesn’t.

1. Grassroots / employees

  • Create a pledge site where people can say “if there is not meaningful commitment at Copenhagen, I will start working a 9DF” (or whatever the optimal specific, measurable, commitment is) [1]
  • Who do you work for? — this way we can build up a numbers per company, making it easier for companies to be petitioned, and jump before they’re pushed
  • Possibly ask for demographics (age, income, voting trend, postcode) so that people can see it has broad support
  • “I will commit to my employer to do my best to get the same amount of work done in the hours I will be working” — it’s important that the action is against the govt / in favour of change, not an action intended to penalise your employer
  • Obviously make it v easy to spread the word
    • Badges – everyone loves a badge!
    • #9df hashtag on twitter / facebook
    • Twitter / facebook accounts / pages

[1] Give the option to say “And moreover this is something I’d like my employer to consider anyway”

2. Corporate / employers

  • Provide tools and support for employers wanting to take action
  • Give them so much PR and fluff, that it becomes a no brainer
  • Have a credit roll, asking people to support / buy from participating companies
  • Get it promoted and recorded as a metric for work / life balance, and the best companies to work for
  • Encourage discounts from one company to another, eg cafe’s give 10% off for people on 9DF days
  • Much like UN Principles of Responsible Investment, allow it to be aspirational and voluntary, so something that can be worked towards with your employees. They will be reasonable, but they will also be mindful of the fact that there’s no point in striking if it doesn’t make a difference, so you’re going to have to be sure that your company is leading where your government is not.

3. PR

  • We must manage the unavoidable in order to avoid the unmanageable
  • If politicians won’t lead us where we want to go, we’ll stop following. Looking to companies and organisations to take a lead.
  • Ask Age of Stupid etc
  • Get Milo from ldnnudecalendar and that lot

People to contact

Likely businesses

  • School of everything
  • Howies
  • L’Oreal – they funded Home
  • JP Morgan

Related organisations who might like this / people with big mailing lists

Key companies it would be a boon to get on board


  • Richard Douthwaite, economist – to write a piece promoting the benefits of adding non-currency value to the economy
  • Colin Challen, MP – to support and give credibility
  • Martin Tod – Lib dem, Winchester

“Good company to work for” competitions

Evidence of…

Not reducing productivity

  • Need to find examples of productivity curves over the average week
  • Find evidence of 9df increasing productivity – seek at:
    • productivity501
    • lifehacker
    • ask people to submit evidence
  • Utah’s Four-Day Work Week Scores Well – less overtime hours worked, 9% less leave taken, 70% satisfaction (evidence from a compressed 4dw)
  • Less absenteeism since employees know they will have time to get those things done
  • A recent survey by salary.com of over 10,000 American workers revealed that on average, we waste more than 2 hours each day surfing the web or making phone calls to friends. We would be less likely to do that if work occupied less time.
  • Feasta review of Sharing the Work and Saving the Planet – a great global comparison or working time reduction effects
  • The Great Transition report from the NEF. See also link
  • Need to work out actually how much carbon would be saved by some people not turning up at the office.

Other employer benefits

  • Increased loyalty = less training costs
  • Lower accident rates
  • Lower insurance rates
  • Decreased operational costs (eg smaller building, less maintenance, less cleaning.. etc)
  • Reduced cost of child care

Climate benefits

  • Energy use down 13% in Utah
  • 10% fewer commutes
  • reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollutants.
  • less traffic congestion = more efficient traffic flow = less fuel consumed

Good for people

Good for society

  • Gives more time to fix the broken window syndrome
  • Allows the informal, local economies to grow, stimulating local demand (local since we’ll be encouraging people not to travel far on day 10)
  • The floods in Cumbria demonstrate that we will increasingly need to work together to manage the unavoidable. Giving people tie to contribute to their community and learn new skills sets a strong foundation for that.

This being effective direct action

  • 9DF was part of BPs policy until 2008: “In a 2003 report on flexible working, BP was named as one of 50 model employers by the Department of Trade and Industry in its approach to employees’ “work-life balance”.” http://is.gd/512CN


  • “I like having the three-day weekend. I like being able to have one day set aside to do everything that I need to do, and then the other two days where I can devote to my son.” .” Every Friday morning now, Smith volunteers at her son’s school. She helps students with their spelling tests and relishes the extra time with her son. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=102938615
  • “The efficiency and morale of our employees is so increased, the accident and insurance rates are so improved, and the unit cost of production is so lowered that we can afford to pay as much for six hours as we formerly paid for eight.” W.K.Kellogg
  • Consider what has actually happened to the employment rent in places like Kellogg, Medtronic, and Ideal. Each company reduced hours without reducing pay. Therefore the hourly wage went up, thereby maintaining the original employment rent. That’s why productivity didn’t fall. In cases where workers are paid by the hour, where the company raises the hourly wage, and where the changes are incremental (on the order of one to two hours a day), a shorter workday has been shown to pay for itself. The changes also improved morale. Workers appreciated the company’s willingness to schedule fewer hours and raise pay. As a result they conducted more personal business on their own time and showed up for work more regularly. If a workplace reform is done right, a company can gain loyalty and productivity from its employees at no cost. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1510/is_n77/ai_12923129/

Helping Employers make the transition

  • By all accounts, the workforce of tomorrow will be older, more culturally and ethnically diverse, and will consist of more female workers than ever. This diversity will require companies to use new and innovative approaches toward managing human resources and delivering services. To succeed, we must successfully compete for skilled workers; and it must be able retain them by providing challenging job opportunities and the flexibility to accommodate family responsibilities and other activities outside work.
  • 5 steps towards a mokre flexible workplace
  • 35 Questions You Should Ask When Drafting a Compressed Work Week Policy
  • Numbers from Utah’s 4/10 compressed schedule
  • Get in touch with the people who run the various “best companies” surveys, ie The Sunday Times and the FT and get them to incorporate a stringent green credentials section to all of their best companies surveys (inc the SME one which we came 3rd in!). That’d immediately have the effect of making all entrants (usually in the region of 600 companies, I believe) at least make some effort on that front.

Alternative structures

  • 9/80 – still do 80 hours / week, but over 9 days instead of 10
  • 4/10 – do 10 hours / day on 4 days per week, thus still equally 40 hours
  • Flexitime


  • Climate change belief given same legal status as religion
  • A strike is only lawful if it is considered a trade dispute. BBC staff attempted to strike due to ideological opposition to apartheid in South Africa (transmission of FA Cup final overseas) this was not considered a suitable reason for strike action. That was a while ago but is still the case that is used in teaching to define the issue.
  • Therefore in this case given where the law is now there would have to be an impact of employee’s terms and conditions to consider strike action. Furthermore, in order to take lawful strike action there are a number of hurdles to jump over in terms of consultation, notification, balloting, numbers required to support etc.
  • Any strike action outside of that would be considered a “wildcat strike” and any action taken against individuals would depend on how the company’s decide to deal with it. In some cases recently companies have decided not to take action against individuals (legally they can dismiss for gross misconduct on these grounds) due to the negative PR it would attract. So its not impossible just a bit tricky!
  • The EAT said a belief must have five essential featuresto be covered by the regulations. It must be:
    • genuinely held
    • not merely an opinion or viewpoint
    • related to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour
    • persuasive, serious, cohesive and important
    • worthy of respect in a democratic society, not incompatible with human dignity or conflict with the fundamental rights of others
  • In addition to all sort of other reasons not to actually “strike”, striking workers do not get paid by their employers. If the industrial action being taken is sanctioned by the Trade union then the union has funds that ensure that the workers are paid for there actions. This may not be as much as the worker would have got but it might be in the long term. But most will not be in unions.


  • Top employers not reducing emissions
    • The research was conducted by Marketing magazine and Brand Republic, with ENDS Carbon, a specialist carbon ratings agency, and the University of Edinburgh business school. The aim is to give leading UK brands an annual emissions rating.
    • Rachael Stilwell, publishing director of Marketing magazine, said: “These results will become an important reputational milestone for brands.”
  • Guardian article on brand reputation and climate change
    • Best brands: Tesco, T-Mobile, Dell, BMW, Eurotunnel, Accenture, Standard Chartered, Ericsson, KPMG, AMD
    • Worst brands: Barclays, Sky, correcteBay, Toyota, RBS (Royal Bank of Scotland), Travis Perkins, Bosch, Axa, British Gas
  • A survey of the carbon performance of 600 of the UK’s biggest brands reveals that two-thirds are either increasing their greenhouse gas emissions, have targets that are weaker than the government’s Copenhagen goal for carbon cuts, or are failing to put information about their carbon emissions in the public domain.

Legal starting places

  • Shah Quereshi, the original lawyer who made the case
  • Mahood J. another lawyer who writes about this

Ed Dowding

Ed Dowding

Founder, strategist, writer, gadfly, TED talker, world-record holder, and (foolishly) reality-TV farmer. DOES: Innovation, Product, Advocacy THINKS: Regenerative Systems, Institution design, 300 year horizons

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