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Rebellion against Reason? A Study of Expressive Choice and Strikes


  • Christa N. Brunnschweiler

    () (Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Norway and OxCarre, University of Oxford, U.K.)

  • Colin Jennings

    (University of Strathclyde, U.K.)

  • Ian A. MacKenzie

    () (ETH Zurich, Switzerland)


In this paper we challenge the conventional view that strikes are caused by asymmetric information regarding firm profitability such that union members are uninformed. Instead, we build an expressive model of strikes where the perception of unfairness provides the expressive benefit of voting for a strike. The model predicts that larger union size increases both wage offers and the incidence of strikes. Furthermore, while asymmetric information is still important in causing strikes, we find that it is the employer who is not fully informed about the level of emotionality within the union, thereby contributing to strike incidence. An empirical test using UK data provides support for the predictions. In particular, union size has a positive effect on the incidence of strikes and other industrial actions even when asymmetric information regarding profitability is controlled for.

Suggested Citation

  • Christa N. Brunnschweiler & Colin Jennings & Ian A. MacKenzie, 2012. "Rebellion against Reason? A Study of Expressive Choice and Strikes," CER-ETH Economics working paper series 12/162, CER-ETH - Center of Economic Research (CER-ETH) at ETH Zurich.
  • Handle: RePEc:eth:wpswif:12-162

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Fearon, James D., 1995. "Rationalist explanations for war," International Organization, Cambridge University Press, vol. 49(03), pages 379-414, June.
    2. Hamlin, Alan & Jennings, Colin, 2011. "Expressive Political Behaviour: Foundations, Scope and Implications," British Journal of Political Science, Cambridge University Press, vol. 41(03), pages 645-670, July.
    3. Glazer, Amihai, 1992. "An Expressive Voting Theory of Strikes," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 30(4), pages 733-741, October.
    4. John Godard, 1992. "Strikes as Collective Voice: A Behavioral Analysis of Strike Activity," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 46(1), pages 161-175, October.
    5. Ashenfelter, Orley & Johnson, George E, 1969. "Bargaining Theory, Trade Unions, and Industrial Strike Activity," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 59(1), pages 35-49, March.
    6. Peter Ingram & David Metcalf & Jonathan Wadsworth, 1993. "Strike Incidence in British Manufacturing in the 1980s," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 46(4), pages 704-717, July.
    7. Andrew Gelman & Nate Silver & Aaron Edlin, 2012. "What Is The Probability Your Vote Will Make A Difference?," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 50(2), pages 321-326, April.
    8. Andrew Gelman & Nate Silver & Aaron Edlin, 2009. "What is the probability your vote will make a difference?," NBER Working Papers 15220, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. James T. Bennett & Bruce E. Kaufman, 2004. "What Do Unions Do?: A Twenty-Year Perspective," Journal of Labor Research, Transaction Publishers, vol. 25(3), pages 339-350, July.
    10. Rabin, Matthew, 1993. "Incorporating Fairness into Game Theory and Economics," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(5), pages 1281-1302, December.
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    More about this item


    strikes; expressive voting;

    JEL classification:

    • D03 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Behavioral Microeconomics: Underlying Principles
    • D72 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Political Processes: Rent-seeking, Lobbying, Elections, Legislatures, and Voting Behavior
    • J52 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor-Management Relations, Trade Unions, and Collective Bargaining - - - Dispute Resolution: Strikes, Arbitration, and Mediation

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