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Kerr-Siegel hypothesis


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In an article on ‘The Interindustry Propensity to Strike—an International Comparison’ (in A. Kornhauser et al., Industrial Conflict, 1954), Clark Kerr and Abraham Siegel offered an analysis of inter-industry differences in strike-proneness, and argued that high strike-rates among geographically or socially isolated, cohesive, homogeneous groups of workers (such as longshoremen, miners, and sailors) were a consequence of their alienation from the wider society and the unpleasant nature of their jobs. First, since the location of the worker in society determines his or her propensity to strike, and location is heavily dependent on industrial environment, then industries will be strike-prone where workers form a homogeneous group isolated from the general community. Moreover, by selection and conditioning, the nature of jobs determines the kind of workers employed: unpleasant, casual, unskilled work attracts (and fosters) tough, combative workers, who will be likely to strike. A combination of these two theories explains the differential strike-rates observed across industries.

The thesis generated an extensive secondary literature and considerable controversy. Critics argued, among other things, that the strike statistics that formed the basis of the argument were unreliable; that the analysis omitted certain key industries (such as steel) which contradicted the argument; and that the explanation of strike-proneness relied too much on a limited range of structural factors and ignored the attitudes of the different parties involved. See also industrial conflict.

Subjects: Sociology.


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