Strikebreaking and the Labor Market in the United States, 1881-1874

Joshua L. Rosenbloom

NBER Historical Working Paper No. 86
Issued in May 1996
NBER Program(s):Development of the American Economy

Improvements in transportation and communication combined with technological changes in key manufacturing industries substantially increased competitive pressures in American labor markets during the last half of the nineteenth century. One manifestation of these changes was the widespread use of strikebreakers. In this paper I examine the extent and pattern of strikebreaking in the United States using data from a sample of over 2,000 individual strikes between 1881 and 1894 drawn from reports compiled by the U.S. Commissioner of Labor. Consistent with other evidence of increasing geographic integration at this time, I find that the use of strikebreakers did not vary substantially across regions or by city size. On the other hand, I find that employers in smaller cities and in regions other than the northeast were more likely to have to turn to replacements recruited at a distance, underscoring the important role that employer recruitment played in establishing an integrated labor market. Pronounced variations in the likelihood of strikebreaking across industries suggests, however, that the impact of increasing integration differed for different groups of workers and employers. Finally, the strike data confirm the importance of labor market integration on the outcomes of labor conflict in this period. After controlling for other strike characteristics the use of strikebreakers had a large and negative impact on workers' ability to win strikes.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/h0086

Published: Journal of Economic History, Vol. 58, no. 1 (March 1998): 183-205.

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