Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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STRIKES AND LOCKOUTS are suspensions of work growing out of differences between employers and employed. Though it is customary to speak of all such interruptions of labor as strikes, some are more properly termed lockouts, there being an essential difference between strike and a lockout. A strike is a suspension of work resulting from a dispute originating in some demand of the employed; a lockout, in some demand of the employer. A stoppage of work, for example, resulting from a demand on the part of employés for an advance in wages, would be a strike; a stoppage resulting from a demand by the employer for a reduction, would be a lockout. An apparent exception to this definition, are those strikes and lockouts entered upon for the purpose of influencing the settlement of other strikes and lockouts, as, when workmen who are satisfied with their own wages cease work, to assist in enforcing the demands of other workmen who are not satisfied, or, when employers "lockout" their employés with whom they have no differences, depriving them to work and its wages for the purpose of preventing them from assisting striking workmen. In these and similar apparent exceptions, however, there is always a formal or implied demand.


—It is frequently difficult to determine whether a labor contest should be classified as a strike or a lockout. Practically the distinction is of little importance, except as it bears on the question of the relative tendency of employer and employed to take the initiative in these industrial conflicts. Unless, therefore, it is expressly stated to the contrary, the word strike in this article will include both strikes and lockouts.


Classification of Strikes. Strikes and lockouts may be divided into three general classes.*117. They are occasioned by 1, differences as to future contracts; 2, disagreements as to existing contracts; or 3, quarrels upon some matter of sentiment. These contracts may be agreements more or less formal, or customs of the trade and methods of work and administration, which, from long usage, have the force of agreements. The first class named would include strikes arising from differences as to the present and future wages of labor; from attempts to change existing agreements, customs or methods, or to introduce new ones. Disagreements under the second class would arise either upon matters of fact or construction; while quarrels of the third class grow out of the offended amour propre, either of the individual or the class.


Causes of Strikes. In the early history of labor troubles the causes of strikes were few. They arose chiefly from differences as to rates of wages, which are still the most fruitful sources of strikes, and from quarrels growing out of the dominant and servient relations of employers and employed. While labor remained in a state of actual or virtual servitude, there was no place for strikes. With its growing freedom "conspiracies of workmen" were formed, and strikes followed. The scarcity of labor in the fourteenth century, resulting from the "black death," and the subsequent attempts to force men to work at wages and under conditions fixed by statute, were sources of constant difficulties, while the efforts to continue the old relation of master and servant with its assumed rights and duties, a relation that English law recognizes to this day, were, and still are, the causes of some of the most bitter strikes that have ever occurred.


—With the rise of the craft-guilds, the opportunities for strikes were increased, and the list of causes enlarged. These craft-guild strikes rarely grew out of differences as to wages, but from disputes regarding presumed infringements of privileges, or innovations of trade customs, and were sometimes undertaken for the most trivial causes. The custom of blacklisting or "reviling," as it was termed, practiced by these guilds as a method of punishment, was also a constant source of strikes, the craftsmen refusing to work for the "reviled" master, or with the "reviled" journeyman, until he had made atonement, and had been recognized as honorable by the guild. In many respects strikes growing out of modern trades unionism resemble those of the craft-guilds, which organizations are the precursors, if not the parents, of modern unionism. In addition to these causes named, many of which are still as potent as ever, the changes in the relations of employer and employed, and of workmen to each other, and to their occupations, arising from the modern organization of labor and industry, have introduced new sources of discontent, and consequently increased the list of causes from which strikes may arise. The possible causes of strikes at the present time, therefore, are much more numerous than they were formerly, and the liability to trouble greatly increased.


—While this is true, a careful analysis of the various causes shows that they can all be grouped under a few general heads. Strikes are caused by differences as to: 1, rates of wages, demands for advances or reductions, chiefly; 2, payment of wages, changes in the method, time or frequency of payment; 3, hours of labor; 4, administration and methods of work, for or against changes in the methods of work or rules and methods of administration, including the difficulties regarding labor-saving machinery, piece-work, apprentices and discharged employés; 5, unionism; 6, miscellaneous, including strikes from matters of sentiment, and a few others that do not admit of classification.


—Strikes result most frequently from differences regarding rates of wages. In an investigation into the strikes of 1880, made for the United States census by the writer, a classification according to causes gave the following result:

Table.  Click to enlarge in new window.


This exact proportion will not hold good for all years, but it is safe to assert that strikes growing out of disputes regarding rates of wages will always be more than 50 per cent. of the whole number of strikes. The proportion of strikes arising from demands for advances or demands for reduction, the two chief causes of difficulties connected with rates of wages, will vary greatly in different years, depending chiefly upon the condition of business, demands for advances being more frequent in years of high prices, and for reductions in years of low prices. Of the strikes arising from differences as to rates of wages, which were reported upon in the above table, 86 per cent. Were for advances, and 14 per cent. against reductions.


Conditions Influencing the Frequency of strikes. Our information is too meagre, and what is available too fragmentary and inexact, to justify the formulating of any universal laws as to their frequency, or any unconditional proposition as to their justice or policy. There are, however, certain facts which a study of strikes and lockouts seems to make evident. Consider, first, the conditions that influence their frequency. As has already been indicated, the modern organization of industry and labor has largely increased the possibility of strikes. While I can not accept the definition of some writers, that strikes are "refusals of a number of workmen in combination to work on the terms offered by the employer,"*118 there can be no doubt that the opportunities offered for combination by the aggregation of large bodies of workmen of the same trade in the same locality, and the ease of communication between those of the same class employed in different localities, have greatly increased the number of strikes, and made those that have occurred of much greater importance. It will, therefore, be found , as a rule, that in those trades in which a large number of men are engaged in the same occupation, and in localities where large bodies of workmen congregate, strikes are comparatively frequent. There are but few strikes in the agricultural occupations; but many in the mining, mechanical and manufacturing industries.


—Frequently changes in the prices of commodities increase the number of strikes. These render necessary more frequent changes in the rates of wages, and in the relations of employer and employed, and, as it is not possible always to agree as to what these changes shall be, strikes follow. The improved methods of communication and transportation, and the remarkable development of manufacturing industry in modern times, has much to do with these fluctuations, and consequently with the increase of strikes. Under the methods and facilities of some centuries ago, the periods of fluctuations were spread over many years. Agreements concerning work, or "terms of hiring", as they were called, were for the year, and demands for advances or reductions were made at the time of the yearly contracts. This is changed now; fluctuations in prices follow each other at times with the greatest rapidity, and with them come demands for an increase or reduction in wages, which, if not granted, end in strikes or lockouts. It will be found, however, that strikes arising from these fluctuations are not always the most frequent during the period of rapid advances, nor lockouts during a decline, though demands for changes in wages are most prevalent at such times. They generally occur at or near the beginning of such periods, or near their close. When the market is rapidly advancing or declining, the conditions are usually such as to render opposition futile, and a demand made is conceded, but when the advance or decline in price is beginning, or when it is nearing its end, there is so much opportunity for differences, not only as to the existing conditions of business, but as to its future, that a peaceable solution can not be reached so readily as when there is no uncertainty as to the state of prices.


—It is upon the existence of one or both of these conditions, viz., opportunities for combination, and the fluctuations in prices of commodities, and the advantage taken of their presence, that the frequency of strikes and lockouts largely depends. Whatever may be the real or apparent necessity for an appeal to industrial warfare, neither employer nor employed will inaugurate a strike or lockout, except in very rare cases, without a reasonable prospect of success. In estimating these probabilities the strength and character of the combination that the workmen may form, or that the employer must meet, as well as the state of the market, are the chief determining elements. It will be found that it is a belief, that the party making the demand is strong enough to enforce it, or that the condition of the market is such that the party upon whom the demand is made can concede it, and will eventually be forced to do so, that determines whether or not a strike or lockout shall be undertaken.


Trades Unions and Strikes. Much has been written as to the influence of trades unions upon the frequency of strikes. As has already been stated, there can be no doubt that combinations of workmen, or trades unions, have had a marked influence in increase the number of strikes. Many never would have been undertaken had it not been for a conviction of success through the power of combination. While this is true regarding all combinations, it is very doubtful if it is true of the strong, well-organized unions that have represented certain classes of workmen for some years. While many of these unions are responsible for some of the most determined, hotly contested and important strikes of the century, some of which were totally indefensible, it is also true, as a rule, that their utterances and influence are against strikes. Their refusals to undertake general strikes, or to countenance local ones, are quite frequent. Not only has their positive influence been exercised against strikes, but indirectly they have had a marked effect in reducing their number. Adjustments of wages to which they have been parties have, as a rule, been for longer periods than when rates have been fixed without unions; their strength has made them respected, and deferred demands upon the trades they represented until a real necessity for reductions existed; while their accumulated funds and the force of public opinion, to which they are quite sensitive, have rendered them conservative and disinclined to enter upon a strike until no other course seemed open.


The Statistics of Strikes. It is manifestly impossible to secure complete and accurate statistics of strikes. Many are never heard of by others than the parties engaged, and when information concerning those that are known is not refused, the statements made are frequently so incomplete and inaccurate, and so evidently colored by the views and supposed interests of the party giving them, that they are far from reliable in many of their particulars. Nor withstanding this, the published statistics of strikes are of great importance. They render available much valuable information concerning the number, character, losses and results of strikes, and furnish many facts necessary to a decision as to their policy and justice. The most important publications on this subject are the "Report of the British Social Science Association" ("Trade Societies and Strikes," London, 1860); a paper read by Mr. G. Phillips Bevan before the statistical society, London, Jan. 20, 1880, the first attempt to give the statistics of the strikes of any country for a series of years; the "Report of the Massachusetts Bureau of Labor Statistics" for 1880, and of Pennsylvania for 1882, giving the statistics of strikes in these states for a series of years; and the "Report on Strikes in the United States for 1880", compiled for the United States census by Jos. D. Weeks. The reports of several of the royal and parliamentary committees of Great Britain on labor subjects, and the annual reports of many trades unions also, contain much valuable information on strikes. These latter, however, are not generally available. Mr. Bevan reports on 2,352 strikes in Great Britain, covering the years from 1870 to 1879. The loss in wages alone from 114 of these strikes was £5,067,825. In the writer's "Census Report", statistics more or less complete are given of 762 strikes that occurred in the United States in 1880. In 414 of these, 128,262 person were engaged. The report gives quite full returns from 226 strikes, in which 64,779 persons took part. The time lost was equal to the work of one man 1,989,872 days, and the wages unearned for this time, $3,711,097. Of the direct losses in the remaining 506 strikes no statement was received, nor of the indirect losses to capital, to the workmen not directly engaged, and to the wealth of the country. It is probable that the striking workmen recouped their losses in part from their society funds and from contributions, as well as by working at other employments; but, after all allowances are made, it still remains a deplorable fact that the waste and loss from strikes are enormous.


Results of Strikes. The history of strikes abundantly proves that as a rule they are not successful; that is, the demand which was the cause of the strike is not conceded. Of 351 of the strikes reported upon by Mr. Beavan in his paper already referred to, 189 were unsuccessful, 71 successful and 91 compromised. Of 149 reported upon by the Massachusetts bureau of labor statistics, only 18 were successful, 109 unsuccessful, 16 compromised, and 6 partially successful. The report of the Pennsylvania bureau on 135 strikes showed 45 successful, 66 unsuccessful, 13 compromised, and 11 partially successful. The census report gives the result of 481 strikes, of which 169 were successful, 227 unsuccessful, and 85 compromised. This report shows also that the workmen are more successful in strikes growing out of demands for advances than they are in resisting demands for reductions. With the exception of the census report on strikes, these statements cover a series of years, including periods of great depression in business, as well as prosperous times, and may, therefore, be regarded as giving fairly average results.


The Expediency of Strikes. Of the utter folly of many strikes, there can be no question. They have been doomed to defeat from their inception. They have been undertaken in defiance of all economic laws, in ignorance of the real condition of trade, and without any just cause. They have wasted capital and decreased the wealth of the country. They have brought hunger, misery, debt; have broken up homes, served long associations, forced trade to other localities, and driven men and women and little children into the very shadow of death; and yet men, knowing that all of these possibilities are before them, will deliberately enter upon strikes, will cheerfully bear all these privations, and, what is more remarkable still in many instance, the wives of the strikers, upon whom the misery falls with the most crushing force, will be the most determined in their resolution. It would seem that there must be some reason for this, and I believe it will be found that strikes are not wholly wrong, and that even unsuccessful ones are in many ways advantageous to the strikers. Labor has had to fight for every advantage it has gained, and though it is often defeated in its struggles that are called strikes, it has not only learned in these contests how better to wage future battles, but it has so impressed employer with its strength that it has made them shy of encountering antagonists constantly growing more formidable. The most hopeful indication of modern industrial society is the great increase of mutual respect and good-will between employers and employed, as well as greater regard on the par of each for the rights of the other. To this result strikes have contributed in no small degree. They have also asserted the right of combined labor to deal with combined capital, and have denied the claim that the true labor market was found in the "higgling" of capital with all its power, and one individual workman with his weakness and necessities. In addition to this, it will be found that many of the movements that have bid fair to improve the condition of labor, such as co-operation industrial partnerships, boards of conciliation and arbitration, as well as wise rules and policy on the part of trades unions, owe much to strikes.


Notes for this chapter

This is substantially the classification of Sir Rupert Kettle, in his admirable work, "Strikes and Arbitrations," London,1866
This is Prof. T. E. Cliffe Leslie's definition. It does not seem to me that "a number of workmen in combination" are essential to a strike, and all strikes, using the word as Prof. Leslie does, to indicate strikes and lockouts, are certainly not refusals of workmen to work on the terms offered by the employers.

Footnotes for SUBSIDIES.

End of Notes

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