Social Aspects of Industry: A Survey of Labor Problems and Causes of Industrial Unrest

By S. Howard Patterson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XV
LABOR DISPUTES AND THE WEAPONS OF LAST RESORT

PROBLEMS OF INDUSTRIAL CONFLICT

1. Development of Strikes .-- Although strikes are associated with modern industrialism, it has been said that their forerunners were the slave insurrections of ancient Rome and the peasants' revolts of medieval Europe. Even before the advent of modern capitalism there existed class struggle along economic lines. But strikes in the strict sense of the word did not exist until the development of capitalism and the wage system. Nevertheless, they are older than modern industrialism. References to strikes among the journeymen and hired craftsmen may be found in the chronicles of the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries.

The first recorded strike in America was that of the journeymen bakers of New York City in 1741 for increased wages. The bakers were tried and convicted of conspiracy, but no record remains of a sentence passed upon them. Other sporadic illustrations of local strikes may be found in the closing years of the eighteenth century and the opening years of the nineteenth century. During the period of rising prices before the panic of 1837 a relatively large number of strikes occurred.

It was not until after the Civil War, however, that the problem of strikes assumed a national aspect. The first national labor dispute in the United States was the railway strike of 1877. Although the chief disturbances centered about Pittsburgh, riots were general and interstate commerce was crippled. Considerable property was destroyed and a resort was finally made to the state militia.

2. Extent of Strikes . -- Prior to 1881, statistics of industrial disputes were very incomplete. From 1881 to 1905, however, the Bureau of Labor Statistics attempted to compile information as to strikes and lockouts. During this quarter of a century there occurred 36,757 strikes and 1,546 lockouts, or an annual average of between one and two thousand labor disturbances.1

The average length of these strikes per establishment was 25 days and of lockouts 85 days. Approximately 200,000 establishments and 7,000,000 workers were affected. More than half of these strikes occurred in the great industrial area represented by Massachusetts, New York,

____________________
1
Twenty-first Annual Report of U. S. Commissioner of Labor.

-372-

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