Though you wouldn't think so from media coverage of the decision by the Brighton TUC to consider the practicalities of calling a general strike, it is a British invention and one that has been successfully exported all over the world.
Just as Britain was the first industrial capitalist power from the late 18th century, so workers began to organise and find ways of trying to make sure that the rise of the market did not mean limitless exploitation.
There was a general strike in Scotland as early as 1820 but the popularisation of the idea is generally credited to the Chartist activist William Benbow.
His pamphlet outlining plans for a Grand National Holiday appeared in the early 1830s, but Benbow, by that time a veteran activist, had been pondering and discussing the ideas involved for many years before that.
The broad point was that all labour should cease until capitalism called it a day.
But ideas and practical strategies are often not quite the same thing, so when the Chartists adopted Benbow's plan in August 1838 there was an attempt to limit a national strike to a week.
It didn't work, but the strategy of a general withdrawal of labour remained firmly in place, something to be used occasionally if other things had failed, although still less forceful than the armed rising which the Chartists tried in 1839.
The next general strike was in 1842, and it was probably the biggest anywhere in the world in the 19th century.
Historians have sometimes called it the plug plot because the essential method of prosecuting the strike was for groups of strikers - flying pickets - to go from factory to factory pulling the plugs from the boilers that provided industrial power, and so causing production to stop.
The strike against wage reductions had its impact but remained confined to the industrial north.
With the rise of organised trade unions and the TUC itself from 1868, the responsibility for calling a general strike shifted from below - the 1838 and 1842 strikes originated from the grassroots - to the labour movement leadership after due discussion and democratic decision.
There were still huge - sometimes termed mass - strikes, particularly in the period just before the first world war, but the next official general strike in Britain was in 1926.
Its history, if perhaps not that well known now to many, can easily be checked in books or on the web.
As in 1842, it was a defensive affair designed to stop employers' attacks, and it failed.
The media will no doubt dwell on that point and argue that this must mean that all attempts at a general strike end in failure, but historically there is little evidence for that.
The next time the TUC called a general strike was in 1972 over the jailing of five dockers in Pentonville.
The strike was set for July 31 1972. On July 28 1972, a mysterious government officer, the official solicitor, appeared and the dockers were released.
The general strike was successful without actually having to take place, although many thousands of workers had walked out in the meantime.
The idea of the co-ordinated political general strike - such as the days of action over the NHS in the 1980s which also fulfilled that criteria - was a particular focus of Tory anti-union legislation in the Thatcher years.
A central aim was to prevent co-ordinated action beyond narrow industrial objectives.
This point is of interest not only because its spectre still haunts our rulers, but also because it tells us that the British labour movement - often characterised as grey, dull and moderate - has some other traditions as well.
So will the people of Britain be pushed toward a general strike this year?
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