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1881-85 1886-90


Since its establishment the United States Bureau of Labor has issued four reports dealing exclusively with the statistics of strikes and lockouts.* The data which they contain have been interpreted by many writers in a number of different ways and with varying results. Whenever a writer upon the labor problem has wanted to say something about strikes and lockouts, it has been customary for him to take up one of the above volumes, glance through it hastily, pick out a few general averages for the period covered by the investigation, and then publish those averages as accurate conclusions, good for all times, past, present, and future, and for the whole field of strikes and lockouts. Averages covering one period of years, e.g., the average number of establishments per strike for 188195, have been compared with those of another, e.g., the average number of establishments per strike for 1881-1900. The worthlessness of such a use of statistical data is too evident to warrant argument. Another method frequently followed has been to divide the tables into periods of four or five years, and then to compare the results of one period with those of another. Thus it has been claimed that the statistics contained in Table I, in which the number of strikes is grouped into five-year periods, show that strikes in the United States remained practically stationary from 1886 to 1895 and that

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*Third Annual Report, Jan. 1, 1881-Dec. 31, 1886
Tenth Annual Report, Jan. 1, 1887-June 30, 1894
Sixteenth Annual Report, July 1, 1894-Dec. 31, 1900
Twenty-first Annual Report, Jan. 1, 1901-Dec. 31, 1905

7169 6951

6 years.

7 years.

6 years.

5 years.

from 1896 to 1900 they actually decreased, although during the same period, 1886-1900, population and the number of wage-earners in the manufacturing industries had greatly increased. Professor T. S. Adams, in an excellent chapter on Strikes, follows this method, and states that, "since 1886 at least, strikes have not been increasing as fast as the population of the country. . . . Thus between 1890 and 1900 the general population increased 20.7 per cent., . . . and the wage-earners in manufacturing industries 25.1 per cent. On the other hand there were more strikes in 1890 than in 1900, and the average annual number of strikes in the five years 1886-90 was 1406 as compared with 1390 for the years 1896-1900. . . . Taking one year with another, there is no reason to distrust the plain testimony of the figures that strikes are not increasing as rapidly as the industrial population." But, on the other

1881-84 1885-88

1881-85 1886-90

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hand, if the statistics in Table I are grouped into four-year periods, as in Table II, a decided increase is to be noted in the last period, 1897-1900. Again, if the statistics covering the five years from 1901 to 1905 be added to Table I, as in Table

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5923 4895

* Adams and Sumner, "Labor Problems," pp. 179–181.

† Special Report on Manufactures, Bureau of the Census, 1905, Part I, p. lxxi.



III, we note that the number of strikes increased to 13,964 as compared with but 6,951 for the period 1896-1900. Thus we see that the number of strikes had practically doubled, although during the same period the wage-earners in the manufacturing industries had increased but 16 per cent. If we compare the

actual number of strikes by individual years, we find that there were more strikes in 1905 than in 1900. Without further comment it is evident that such statistical methods are practically worthless.

Mr. G. G. Huebner has shown the fallacy of such methods in an interesting monograph, "The Statistical Aspect of the Strike," in which he has analyzed the data contained in the Sixteenth Annual (1900) Report of the United States Commissioner of Labor. In part he points out, as Bowley † had previously shown regarding the statistics of exports and imports, that the results obtained by grouping data by periods depend "upon the particular number of years adopted as the basis of the averages," and concludes that "no method which depends upon the particular period chosen as the basis of the averages can be adopted, as there is no more logic in adopting one period than another." Thus, as shown above, if the strike statistics for the period 1881-1900 are grouped into four-year averages, the number of strikes per period increases, but, if a five-year average is used, the number of strikes per period decreases. In order to avoid this fallacy and at the same time to prevent the great fluctuations in the curves which would follow, were the absolute statistics of strikes plotted by years, Huebner adopts the method known as "smoothing," and uses a five-year average as the basis of his work. This results in a curve which avoids extreme fluctuations and at the same time indicates the general tendency in the development of strikes.

After a detailed analysis of the data at hand, Huebner concludes that for the period 1881-1900 statistics show that absolutely strikes were increasing rapidly, although relatively they were increasing slowly. As regards the effect of tradesunionism upon strikes, he affirms that on the "basis of the number of strikes the effect is to check the increase as tradesunionism becomes older and more experienced; on the basis of the number of employees and establishments affected by strikes, the

*Twelfth Biennial Report, Wisconsin Labor Commissioner, Part II.
† Bowley, "Elements of Statistics."
Huebner, p. 82.

effect is to accelerate the increase. The character of the strike is being changed by the union so that it is becoming of increasingly wide-spread importance to both parties and to the community at large. . . . Union strikes are not becoming more successful even though unionism is being more and more thoroughly organized. . . . Furthermore tradesunionism affects the causes of strikes by reducing the importance of the purely standard causes [wages and hours] and increasing the importance of tradesunionism [closed shop, union rules, etc.] as a cause of strikes."

Since the publication of Huebner's results, the Twenty-first Annual Report of the United States Commissioner of Labor has been issued. It will be the object of this paper to examine the data contained in this volume, and by following Huebner's methods to see how nearly later statistics tend to confirm his conclusions as well as those of other writers.

In the tables and charts which follow, all data have been "smoothed" by using five-year averages. In order to get an average for 1882 and 1904 respectively, statistics for 1882, 1883, and 1884, and for 1903, 1904, and 1905, have been smoothed by three-year averages. Since the use of a three-year average in beginning and completing a five-year average curve might be seriously questioned, no importance has been given to the averages for 1882 and 1904 in arriving at any of the conclusions contained in this paper.

Before entering upon a discussion relative to the increase or decrease in the number of strikes during the years 18811905, it is advisable to consider the changes in the nature of the causes of these disturbances. The report of the Commissioner groups the causes of strikes into the following fourteen general divisions, with a subdivision under each, the latter giving the number of strikes in which each cause was but a partial or contributing factor:

1. For increase of wages.

2. Against reduction of wages.

3. For reduction of hours.

4. Against increase of hours.

5. Concerning recognition of union and union rules.

6. Concerning employment of certain persons (not involving union rules).

7. Concerning employees working out of regular occupation.

8. Concerning overtime work and pay.

9. Concerning method and time of payment.

10. Concerning Saturday part holiday.

11. Concerning docking, fines, and charges.

12. Concerning working conditions and rules (not involving union rules).

13. In sympathy with strikers and employees locked out elsewhere.

14. Other causes (not above specified).

Only those strikes ordered because of (1) wages and hours, (2) union rules and recognition of the union, and (3) sympathy, need concern us here, because of the fact that the number of strikes called for reasons other than these fluctuated but little.

In order to obtain statistics of strikes that were declared because of wages and hours, the number of strikes called "For an increase of wages," ," "Against a reduction of wages," "For a decrease of hours" and "Against an increase of hours," have been added to those in which wages and hours were "only partial or contributing causes." Under the heading "Union Rules, etc.," have been grouped those strikes declared because of various matters "relative to dealing with union officials and the adoption or enforcement of rules and regulations of unions governing the work of their members, one of the most frequent and important rules being against working with non-union men," or the closed shop. To these have been added those in which union rules were only a partial or contributing cause. The phrase "Sympathetic Strikes" needs no explanation. Strikes in which sympathy was only a partial cause have also been added. The results thus obtained are presented in Table IV and Diagram I.

*Twenty-first Annual Report, United States Commissioner of Labor, p. 113.

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