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Patterns of industrial conflict 1957-1972 : an international comparison Au Yeong, Chai Yoke

Abstract

Fifteen years ago A.M. Ross and P.T. Hartman published a comparative study of strike activity in fifteen countries with free labour movements, over the years 1900-1956, titled "Changing Patterns of Industrial Conflict". From their findings they had concluded that there is a withering away of the strike and a transformation of the strike from a test of economic strength to brief demonstrations of protest. The writers further classified these fifteen countries into different patterns of industrial conflict and explained their differences as well as their hypotheses that the strike is withering away and is being transformed in terms of the following characteristics of the industrial relations system: 1) Organisational stability; 2) Union leadership conflicts; 3) Status of union-management relations; 4) Labour political activity; 5) Role of the State. Ross and Hartman also suggested that an "Economic Development Pattern" may be described with reference to Israel, Egypt and other nations where the themes of nationalism, anti-colonialism and central planning are combined in aggressive development programs. They were unable to do so because of the inavailability of data. The objective of this thesis is to review Ross and Hartman's study in the light of the experiences in the industrial relations scene since 1956 and our line of inquiry is as follows: 1.) A similar survey of strike activity of the same fifteen countries studied by Ross and Hartman is made for the period 1957-1972. 2) A detailed study of those countries found from (1) to have a different pattern of conflict since the previous study, follows, to identify the causes of the new pattern in each country. The primary purpose is to establish whether the relationships between strike activity and the characteristics of the industrial relations system proposed are valid. 3) The level of strike activity and changes in the industrial relations system of three new nations; Israel, Malaysia and Singapore over the period 1948-1957 is the next area of research to test Ross and Hartman's observations of an "Economic Development Pattern". 4) Finally we will attempt to improve on the methodology of deriving the various patterns of conflict, which was based on ranges of values arbitrarily set. We will use the rule of "the mean of a sample must lie within the distribution of the population mean of the other samples with which it is grouped", where the population refers to the pattern of conflict, the sample, to each country belonging to that pattern and a "t-test" is used to derive the distribution of the population means of each country. From our study, we found that Ross and Hartman's hypothesis that the strike is withering away is not true. The data showed both a higher propensity to strike and greater loss of man-days due to strikes at the end of the period (1969-1972) than at the beginning (1957-1959). Their hypothesis that the strike is being transformed is also not generally true as two countries, United Kingdom and Italy, are having significantly longer average duration of strikes, and three others, Norway, United States and Canada, still have relatively long average durations.

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