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Strikebreaking and the Labor Market in the United States, 1881-1874


  • Joshua L. Rosenbloom


Improvements in transportation and communication combined with technological changes in key manufacturing industries substantially increased competitive pressures in American labor markets during the last half of the nineteenth century. One manifestation of these changes was the widespread use of strikebreakers. In this paper I examine the extent and pattern of strikebreaking in the United States using data from a sample of over 2,000 individual strikes between 1881 and 1894 drawn from reports compiled by the U.S. Commissioner of Labor. Consistent with other evidence of increasing geographic integration at this time, I find that the use of strikebreakers did not vary substantially across regions or by city size. On the other hand, I find that employers in smaller cities and in regions other than the northeast were more likely to have to turn to replacements recruited at a distance, underscoring the important role that employer recruitment played in establishing an integrated labor market. Pronounced variations in the likelihood of strikebreaking across industries suggests, however, that the impact of increasing integration differed for different groups of workers and employers. Finally, the strike data confirm the importance of labor market integration on the outcomes of labor conflict in this period. After controlling for other strike characteristics the use of strikebreakers had a large and negative impact on workers' ability to win strikes.

Suggested Citation

  • Joshua L. Rosenbloom, 1996. "Strikebreaking and the Labor Market in the United States, 1881-1874," NBER Historical Working Papers 0086, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberhi:0086
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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Janet Currie & Joseph Ferrie, 1995. "Strikes and the Law in the U.S., 1881-1894: New Evidence on the Origins of American Exceptionalism," NBER Working Papers 5368, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Card, David & Olson, Craig A, 1995. "Bargaining Power, Strike Durations, and Wage Outcomes: An Analysis of Strikes in the 1880s," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 13(1), pages 32-61, January.
    3. Rosenbloom, Joshua L., 1996. "Was There a National Labor Market at the End of the Nineteenth Century? New Evidence on Earnings in Manufacturing," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 56(03), pages 626-656, September.
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    JEL classification:

    • N31 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913
    • J52 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor-Management Relations, Trade Unions, and Collective Bargaining - - - Dispute Resolution: Strikes, Arbitration, and Mediation


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