Revolutionary Syndicalism and French Labor: a Cause without Rebels

By Peter N. Stearns | Go to book overview

Appendix A: Real Wages and Strikes

Virtually all historical studies of prices and wages in this period contend that real wages rose, though at a slower pace than before, until 1910, and then dropped under the impact of a massive rise in prices; and recently an attractive theory has been advanced to associate the trend in strikes with this evolution. It may seem bold to challenge such a well- established view, though it might be noted that some contemporary economists expressed doubts about the rise of real wages before 1910.1 Certainly the points at issue require discussion; indeed my principal hope is to open renewed inquiry, for if the precise pattern of real wages in a fourteen-year period is of rather specialized interest, the related question of why workers struck and what they wanted is basic to any understanding of labor history.

Professor Jean Lhomme has recently rephrased the usual presentation of real wage trends.2 He indicates a 10% improvement in real wages between 1900 and 1909, then a 7% decline by 1913. This conforms to the interpretations of government statisticians in the period (not surprisingly, since their figures have been the basis of all later studies) and of Jürgen Kuczynski, who normally seeks to paint as black a picture as possible.

My criticism of these interpretations, advanced with real humility since I lack the credentials and probably the depth of interest of many previous students in the history of wages for its own sake, has several bases. First, the government tables minimized real price increases: figures in government reports themselves are frequently higher than the index numbers the final tables record. Second, and most important, the gov

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