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Conflict and compromise: Changes in U.S. strike outcomes, 1880 to 1945

  • Geraghty, Thomas M.
  • Wiseman, Thomas

Before about 1900, most strikes in the United States were either won or lost by the workers who called them. Relatively few strikes ended in any sort of compromise. Sometime during the last decade of the 19th century, however, the pattern begins to change, with the fraction of strikes ending in compromise peaking at nearly half during World Wars I and II. What explains these changes in strike outcomes between the late 19th century and 1945? We explore the effects of macroeconomic conditions, industrial organization and product markets, labor organization, law and public policy, and immigration and trade on the costs and benefits of achieving strike compromises. We find that temporary government intervention in settling strikes during World War I helped move labor and management away from an adversarial equilibrium, and thus allowed growing acceptance of organized labor to be reflected in a permanent increase in the rate of compromise. We conclude that changes in the nature of strike outcomes represent an important and neglected aspect of broader changes in the place of organized labor in the American political economy.

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File URL: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0014498311000271
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Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Explorations in Economic History.

Volume (Year): 48 (2011)
Issue (Month): 4 ()
Pages: 519-537

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Handle: RePEc:eee:exehis:v:48:y:2011:i:4:p:519-537
DOI: 10.1016/j.eeh.2011.06.002
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/inca/622830

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  1. Geraghty, Thomas M. & Wiseman, Thomas, 2008. "Wage strikes in 1880s America: A test of the war of attrition model," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 45(4), pages 303-326, September.
  2. Richard B. Freeman, 1998. "Spurts in Union Growth: Defining Moments and Social Processes," NBER Chapters, in: The Defining Moment: The Great Depression and the American Economy in the Twentieth Century, pages 265-296 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. David Card & Craig A. Olson, 1992. "Bargaining Power, Strike Duration, and Wage Outcomes: An Analysis of Strikes in the 1880s," NBER Working Papers 4075, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. George E. Barnett, 1912. "National and District Systems of Collective Bargaining in the United States," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 26(3), pages 425-443.
  5. Douglas A. Irwin, 2003. "Explaining America's Surge in Manufactured Exports, 1880-1913," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 85(2), pages 364-376, May.
  6. Rees, Albert, 1989. "The Economics of Trade Unions," University of Chicago Press Economics Books, University of Chicago Press, edition 1, number 9780226707105.
  7. Higgs, Robert, 1985. "Crisis, bigger government, and ideological change: Two hypotheses on the ratchet phenomenon," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 22(1), pages 1-28, January.
  8. Huberman, Michael & Young, Denise, 2002. "Hope against Hope: Strike Activity in Canada, 1920-1939," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 39(3), pages 315-354, July.
  9. Horace B. Davis, 1941. "The Theory of Union Growth," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 55(4), pages 611-637.
  10. Hanes, Christopher, 1993. "The Development of Nominal Wage Rigidity in the Late 19th Century," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(4), pages 732-56, September.
  11. Friedman, Gerald, 1988. "Strike Success and Union Ideology: The United States and France, 1880–1914," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 48(01), pages 1-25, March.
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