Labor Relations and Productivity in the Building Trades

By William Haber; Harold M. Levinson | Go to book overview

IV
The Problem of Unstable Employment

One of the principal disadvantages of construction employment is its instability, both seasonally and over the course of the business cycle. The cyclical aspects of the problem have been especially evident during the thirty-year period since World War I, the decades of depression and war, when the violent movements of building volume and employment reflected to an exaggerated degree the movements of the total economy. Less violent, but of equal importance to the average building worker, are seasonal fluctuations of construction activity and employment. The organization of the industry has been "one of adaptation to instability--that is, to the breadth and violence of the fluctuations."1 Recurrent periods of inactivity and unemployment have helped to shape the worker's job attitudes, and the more significant labor problems which characterize collective bargaining often have their source in insecurity and job instability. The purpose of this chapter is to indicate the nature and extent of seasonal and cyclical fluctuations, so as to provide a basis for the discussion, in ensuing chapters, of the specific labor problems which stem in part from this aspect of building work.


THE EXTENT OF SEASONAL UNEMPLOYMENT

Pronounced seasonal fluctuations have always characterized construction activity and employment and have long been regarded as an inherent part of building work. Weather conditions, custom and tradition, and the organization of the construction process have combined to impose a marked seasonal pattern on building activity. Though technical ad-

____________________
1
Miles Colean and Robinson Newcomb, Stabilizing Construction: The Record and Potential ( New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1952), p. 109.

-49-

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