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My daughter is 6 years old, and going to primary school. Sometimes there is a strike, meaning no school. (sometimes the teachers are going on a strike, sometimes the municipality itself, doesn't really matter.)

Naturally, she is asking why there is no school all of a sudden, knowing it's not any holiday.

How can I explain to her, if it's even possible, the concept of such a strike?

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She's definitely old enough to understand that people, herself included, want things. And these teachers have decided they want _____ (where that could be more money, more supplies, smaller classes, etc.). And they are really upset that they aren't getting it. So they all decided that they aren't going to teach until the school district gives them what they want. No teachers, no school.

That's the basics of it. This will probably prompt more questions, like "why doesn't the school district just give the teachers _______?" or "how long will this take?" or "why can't they agree to do ______?". Then take these questions in a similar manner. Explain it simply and let her ask questions where she wants to know more. Don't try to over-explain or touch on every nuance. Let her guide the conversation.

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As always when explaining anything to a child, do it simply and clearly. Name all the most important objects, subjects and aspects, name correlations between them and show the most important implications. Do not overwhelm with secondary details, but make the picture complete.

Say for example:

  • You know people go to work. They do for others what others need: they bake bread, they build houses, they clean streets or they teach children at school. And they are paid for their work. They have their employers (except those who work on their own businesses ...but that's a secondary detail), who pay them.

  • The employer needs workers to do the work, the employees need their boss to pay them.

  • If employees need something from employers or from government (who is often a super-employer, say it owns schools or hospitals), they ask or negotiate. If this fails they may (try to) make an employer to do what they want, by threatening they will stop doing the work.

  • The work needs to be done, so it often works. But if it doesn't, the employers may decide to actually suspend work – and this is a strike.

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She is six. She will understand a great deal.

The teachers want (choose from these and add in the reason they are giving): more money, more preparation time, more supplies, smaller class sizes, better facilities, bigger budgets, less interference from people who are not teachers.

The school board wants: to pay less and to get more. They want more accountability and larger class sizes with less budget. They can't afford to fix the buildings. They are under pressure to make it look like all the students are being looked after while in reality, they cannot be. This is not the school board's fault -- they have less money, more students and fewer teachers.

So the two sides fight. In the end, the pupils and parents have suffered from the lack of school. The teachers have hung on to a few things they felt were most important and lost others. The teachers lost pay, as did some of the parents who had to stay home with the kids. The school board also hung on and did not give up too much -- they had no choice. They cannot give what they do not have to give. The only winners are the union reps.

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