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

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  • Geraghty, Thomas M.
  • Wiseman, Thomas

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Geraghty, Thomas M. & Wiseman, Thomas, 2011. "Conflict and compromise: Changes in U.S. strike outcomes, 1880 to 1945," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 48(4), pages 519-537.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:exehis:v:48:y:2011:i:4:p:519-537
    DOI: 10.1016/j.eeh.2011.06.002
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Hanes, Christopher, 1993. "The Development of Nominal Wage Rigidity in the Late 19th Century," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(4), pages 732-756, September.
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    4. 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.
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    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. 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.
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    Cited by:

    1. Stefan Oliver Houpt & Juan Carlos Rojo Cagigal, 2014. "Relative deprivation and labour conflict during Spain’s industrialization: the Bilbao estuary, 1914–1936," Cliometrica, Journal of Historical Economics and Econometric History, Association Française de Cliométrie (AFC), vol. 8(3), pages 335-369, September.

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    Keywords

    Strikes; Labor unions; United States;

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