Great Burlington Strike of 1888: A Case History in Labor Relations

Great Burlington Strike of 1888: A Case History in Labor Relations

Great Burlington Strike of 1888: A Case History in Labor Relations

Great Burlington Strike of 1888: A Case History in Labor Relations

Excerpt

The study of labor conflicts of the past is not without profit if it contributes to the understanding of mistakes and successes in the process of keeping employees and employers pulling together. The vast productive organization, which has developed in the United States until it turns out goods at a rate unprecedented in the history of mankind, could not have been carried on as it has been without some kind of coöperation. But in the process of growth and change, frictions and breaks in the coöperation between capitalists, or their managers, and wage earners have from time to time slowed down production and have had unfortunate effects upon the participants in the resulting conflicts and upon the whole economy. Some of the problems which have produced these conflicts have not yet been solved. It is to be hoped that the careful study of cases in which they have appeared may contribute something toward a diagnosis of these problems. This book is intended to be such a case study taken from the late nineteenth century, the period when many of the foundations of the present productive structure were being laid.

The great strike of 1888 was the most serious labor conflict ever experienced by the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad, and probably the hardest fight and the worst defeat in the history of the two brotherhoods which took part in it. Although it attracted much public attention at the time, it has been neglected by most historians, perhaps because it lacked the dramatic features of rioting and destruction of property, arousing fears of threats to the social order, which accompanied some of the better known strikes of the period.

In evaluating the ideas, motives, and conduct of either railroad managers or labor leaders in 1888, it is necessary to remember that they were operating in the late nineteenth century, not in the middle of the twentieth. Codes of conduct change from time to time, and even some of the underlying assumptions from which they spring. Individuals or groups should not be judged by rules not yet accepted or practiced by the society of which they are a part.

Since the Civil War, businessmen had been playing an increasingly influential part in American life, building and operating railroads, developing industries, and financing great ventures. The commonly . . .

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