By Paul D’Amato, Socialist Worker, Dec 21, 2010
So long as society has been divided into classes and presided over by a ruling or exploiting class, there has been resistance from the exploited class.
The first recorded strike in history took place under Pharaoh Ramses III in 1158 B.C. The grievances of the strikers, who had fled work and found sanctuary in a local temple, were written down on a papyrus.
“It was because of hunger and thirst that we came here,” the scroll reads. “There is no clothing, no ointment, no fish, no vegetables. Send to Pharaoh, our good lord, about it, and send to the vizier, our superior, that sustenance may be made for us.” They had to occupy two other temples in the next few days until their demands for wages (paid in rations of food and drink) were met.
According to W.W. Tarn, strikes were an “an old Egyptian custom…not merely riots in which the manager got beaten, but regular withdrawals of labor.” According to Tarn, “The men had one weapon which officialdom feared; they could throw the machine of out of gear by leaving their ‘own place’ … and they usually took refuge in some temple with the right of asylum.
In ancient Rome, the class struggle took a different form–various kinds of slave resistance, up to and including slave insurrections and wars. The landed aristocracy of the Roman empire depended for its wealth not on wage labor, but on plunder–which included not only stealing wealth, but seizing war captives and selling them into slavery. The Roman historian Tacitus attributed these fitting words to a British general fighting the Roman conquerors: “Robbery, butchery, rapine, with false names they call Empire; and they make a wilderness, and call it peace.”