A century ago, workers who decided to strike were risking arrest, imprisonment and violent confrontations in the streets.
For much of the 20th century democracies gradually defused these powder kegs by recognizing the right of workers to bargain collectively with management. Certainly there was still plenty of conflict, but at least negotiation replaced literally beating each other with sticks.
While it's unlikely we'll ever see pitched street battles again, Canada is moving backwards when it comes to negotiating with organized labour. In B.C., the provincial government's approach to bargaining was to offer absolutely nothing and then use its legislative club to chase teachers back to work.
In Toronto, the federal government wielded a court injunction to coerce pilots and ground crews back into the service of a private business, Air Canada.
These violations of the right to strike are increasingly justified by labelling more and more services as "essential." Firefighters, police, paramedics and a few others can certainly be so named. But airports? Schools? No one is endangered by their closure. Strikes are a colossal inconvenience to be sure, but that's the point.
Perhaps clashes are inevitable in tough economic times, but in trampling on a hundred years worth of hard-won rights, employers can look forward to a relationship with their workers which remains poisonous long after the good times return. Parents and travellers and, in fact, all of us will live with the consequences of this heavy-handed treatment of working people.