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FEAR NO PHARAOH: Labor demonstrations have powered pay increases for 3,000 years. Here are 10 of the most impactful strikes — for better or worse.

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  • The United Auto Workers labor union is striking for the first time in 12 years.
  • Throughout world history, strikes have had the power to make substantive change to better working conditions. Roman plebeians used strikes to get better government representation. 
  • Australian stonemason demonstrations paved the way for the 8-hour workday. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

For the first time in 12 years, unionized auto workers for General Motors are on strike for better wages and higher quality healthcare.

The last time the United Auto Worker went on strike against GM in 2007 was one of the largest in US history. As many as 73,000 members stopped working after failing to negotiate a fair contract after 20 days.

Throughout history, laborers have used strikes to pressure their employers to provide better working conditions. While some strikers got fired or went back to work empty handed after their demonstration, some demonstrations had the power to drive substantive change. 

Read more: California’s gig economy bill won’t just impact Uber drivers. Here’s how the landmark decision is a major win for janitors, truck drivers, and other low-wage workers.

Here are a handful of the largest, most powerful strikes in world history:

Áine Cain contributed to this report.

The first recorded labor strike occurred in ancient Egypt in 1156 BC, when workers stopped working to protest late payment from the pharaoh, Ramesses III.

CM Dixon/Print Collector/Getty Images

Tomb-builders and artisans began complaining of month-long payment delays in 1159 BC, as they prepared for a festival to honor Ramesses III, according to renowned Egyptologist Toby Wilkinson‘s analysis of ancient record keeping. 

Government officials largely ignored the tomb-builders, and they eventually stopped working and took to the city streets yelling "we are hungry." They blocked access to the Valley of the Kings, barring others from bringing sacred food and drink to the dead.

The pharaoh and ancient workers eventually compromised and they got their paychecks — and the strikes led to greater awareness of corruption within the Egyptian ruling class. 


From 400 to 200 BC, Roman laborers halted the entire economy for days during the Secession of the Plebs.

Culture Club/Getty Images

The Roman plebeians class represented builders, bakers, and common laborers that were one step above slaves on the social hierarchy. They sometimes stopped working en masse during "secessions" to demand fairer treatment during the Republic.

During the first secession in 494 BC, plebeians walked off the job to protest a law that would increase their debt. The strike resulted in a repeal of that law, as well as a government representative position for plebeians. 

The final secession in 287 BC resulted in the formation of the Plebeian Assembly, meaning the class could now pass their own laws the elect their own representatives.

Source: History Daily

The first worker strike in the Americas occurred in Real del Monte, Mexico in 1766.

Corbis/Getty Images

In 1766, miners working for Spanish colonists protested wage reductions and poor working conditions. The two parties eventually negotiated a better labor contract.

The strike began on July 30 after the mining management would not respond to a list of worker grievances. The strike lasted approximately one month, and ended when the administration agreed to increase wages and meet other demands.

Source: Culture Trip, Libcom

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SEE ALSO: LeBron James might be America’s most visible labor activist right now — and he’s garnering support from Bernie Sanders (Allana Akhtar)

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