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The World's First Labour Strike

Posted by Egypt on December 7, 2015


It is not uncommon in today’s world to hear about labor strikes happening all over. Unfair pay, long hours, twisted wage gaps, and more can cause a group of workers to simply refuse their jobs and go on ‘strike’. With the formations of unions and expectations of higher wages and better benefits, jobs can sometimes seem somewhat unstable, and strikes have proven to be a way for workers to get the fairness they want and deserve.

With the commonality of labor strikes today, it might be difficult to think of a time where they simply didn’t exist, but have you ever wondered about how labor strikes actually started?

The world’s first recorded labor strike occurred in ancient Egypt, in 1152 B.C. The strike was recorded under the rule of Pharaoh Ramses III, during the coming of the iron age in Egypt. Artisans at the time were working on the tombs in the Valley of the Kings.

The workers' demands at the time were not as technical as the sort of demands we may hear of today. Where today it is not uncommon for workers to demand things like higher wages, the laborers during the first recorded strike were exasperated due to delays, and quite simply, hunger.

Exhaustion set in for the laborers of Ramses III that was brought on by delays in their supplies. Just like that, the workers laid down their tools, walked off the job, and refused to continue their work until their demands were met.

The lack of wheat rations was the main issue of their strike, and they even went so far as to write letters to village leaders explaining their grievances, and simply stating that they were hungry, supplies were not delivered on time, and they couldn’t work under the conditions that continued to plague them, even causing them to buy their own wheat simply so they wouldn’t starve. 

Their demands were addressed almost instantly by authorities, and the strike ended by the artisans going back to work the very next day. Though, this didn’t mean everything was perfect right away. There were several more strikes that followed over time with similar issues being addressed and similar requests for rations and timely delivery of supplies.

The final strike of the Valley of the Kings laborers ended in a bit of an anti-climactic fashion, with one of the labor leaders heading up a strike again, with other workers choosing not to follow him and continue their work. Wheat rations and supplies were eventually restored, and the workers ended their strikes.

During the last several years of Ramses III’s reign, there were no more labor strikes. However, there are recorded complaints and strikes from other laborers nearly fifty years later, during the reign of a new Pharaoh.

Book The Grand West Bank Tour. to enjoy the wonderful tomb of Ramses III 





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