New Ways in Strike Research

Report of a workshop

Report of the workshop New ways in strike research

International Institute of Social History (IISH), Amsterdam 18-19 September 2008.

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Present: Edward Fokuoh Ampratwum, Leonid Borodkin, Stefan Dormans, Paul Jonker, Dave Lyddon, Carlindo Rodrigues de Oliveira, Irina Shilnikova, and Sjaak van der Velden

Absent with notification: Julia Casutt-Schneeberger and Oscar Edoror Ubhenin

1. Opening
Sjaak van der Velden (IISH) opens the meeting and welcomes everyone, especially Dave Lyddon and Stefan Dormans who in fact are not participants to the research project. Mister Lyddon from Keele University was invited to come over and comment on the papers that will be presented. Stefan Dormans who works with the Virtual Knowledge Studio(VKS) studies the way a collaboratory functions.

2. Goals of the workshop.
Van der Velden gave a short introduction into the reason why the IISH invited this small group of researchers from around the globe. The main objective is to investigate the possibilities of building an international HUB or collaboratory. This HUB will be part of the strategy of the IISH to focus on Global Labour History. Other HUBs research the history of work, Life courses, guilds, and labour relations:
The HUB on labour conflicts will try to collect as much micro-data on labour conflicts as possible. In order to make it possible for future researchers to use the data in comparative studies we should propose a format for the way data is presented. This format must of course not be imposed on participants because the fact that data is collected is more important than the way in which they are collected. If data will be available in different formats (MS-excell sheets, MS-word tables, MS-Access databases, or any other electronic form) the whole project will be more like a repository than a real collaborator. For examples of both approaches see:
Collaborating is possible by using a platform like Liferay.

The second objective of the workshop is to investigate the possibilities of publishing general discussions about the first objective. Such a publication will hopefully encourage other researchers to join or at least make their own data available to the HUB and the public.

The background to the project is an effort to answer the question Why do workers strike? This question is important to politicians, employers and union leaders and activists. In the past scientists sought an answer by analyzing aggregate data. They looked for a number of explanatory indicators from the economy, institutions and political attitudes.Indicators of labour unrest, the dependent variables, are published by the national statistical bureaus and the International Labour Organization (ILO). Despite ILO recommendations published in 1993, most national statistics vary to such a degree that comparisons between countries are hardly possible because countries use different definitions and criteria for inclusion.
The ILO publishes three indicators of strikes by economic activity: the number of strikes, the number of workers involved and the number of days not works. National bureaus often publish more indicators like the demands, duration, outcome, etc. All the data is on an aggregate level, which means that it is not possible to calculate cross-tabulations such as: were strikes that lasted more or less than the average duration more or less successful. Only if micro-data is available researchers can pose such questions freely. National strike proneness is also only calculable when micro-data is available because double counting of the same workers on strike during different strikes cannot be avoided when using aggregate data.

3. Presentation of the relational database to be made available to researchers
This database was built during a ten year long trial and error process of collecting strikes, lockouts and other forms of labour conflict in the Netherlands.
During Van der Velden's presentation a few suggestions were made to improve the database and make it more appropriate for other researchers.
These are:
a widening of some of the entry fields such as an extra field to enter the way a conflict was solved (negotiation, arbitration, judicial verdict etc) a simpler format in a spreadsheet or text programme for researchers who don't want to work with a relational database

4. The Masa-Yards dockworkers' strike of 1992 -a case study using micro-data, by Paul Jonker, Research Fellow at University of Turku, Finland.

Paul Jonker presented his paper (see 'Folders containing strike data' at the top of this page). The research is based on an enquiry among the workers of the wharf that took place just before the 1992 strike at Masa. Jonker showed that this kind of micro-data can make the difference in understanding why workers go on strike. There is however a big problem in the Finnish case. Union density is 100% as a result of the Ghent unemployment scheme and workers almost always follow strike orders by the unions. Therefore, it is difficult to make a distinction between strikers and non-strikers. Dave Lyddon warned Paul not to build too sophisticated models, because in general people act more instinctively than any model can explain.

5. Strikes in Brazil: an outlook of 2007, by Carlindo Rodrigues deOliveira, economist and political scientist at the Inter Union department of statistics and socioeconomic studies (DIEESE) in Belo Horizonte, Brazil

Carlindo gave an account of the strike data for Brazil in 2007. DIEESE, founded in 1955, is the only organization in Brazil that collects data. The national statistical bureau does not publish such data and therefore the ILO has not been able to afford us with Brazilian strike data since 1969 except for the period 1989-1992. DIEESE publishes data in her bulletins. Since 1983 the department collected and analyzed 18,000 strikes, which makes DIEESE a rich source for research.

6. Legal implications of sharing data, by Stefan Dormans (Virtual Knowledge Studio)
If you work on a database which should enable international comparative research, you need to be aware of the legal implications of making a database and sharing data. Dormas's short presentation gave an introductory overview of the main issues involved and it also discussed some possible ways to deal with these issues. His main goal was to bring in some expertise. There are various rights covering databases:

copyright: although factual information is generally not protected by copyright (who owns facts?), both the selection and arrangement of the database contents and the contents of the database itself (the data) is often covered by copyright. This is particularly so if the producer(s) of the database was (were) sufficiently creative and original.database rights: Some jurisdictions, mainly in Europe, have specific special rights that cover databases called the "sui generis" database right. The European Union's Database Directive from 1996 required member states to implement a database right covering the extraction and re-utilisation of the contents of protected databases. As a consequence, everyone who makes a creative and original contribution to (parts of) a database is protected by this right. contracts: contractual obligations about what users can and can't do with a database and its contents can also be used to provide for protection. The most well-known contract is a publisher's right for exploitation. These rights protecting databases and data can form a significant obstacle for the use and re-use of data. This is, among others, true for the scientific community wishing to expand knowledge through use of others' data. As the example of the European Database Directive already suggests, there can be significant differences between countries with respect to this, also within the European Union.
Creative Commons has developed a set of licenses for creative works (by musicians, writers, academics) and in doing so, they use private rights to create public goods. By using a cc-license, a producer of a creative work encourages certain uses of it - and in this process the producer can specify which types of use he agrees with. There are four main types of use:
Attribution. You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform your copyrighted work - and derivative works based upon it - but only if they give credit the way you request.
Noncommercial. You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform your work - and derivative works based upon it - but for noncommercial purposes only.
No Derivative Works. You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform only verbatim copies of your work, not derivative works based upon it.
Share Alike. You allow others to distribute derivative works only under a license identical to the license that governs your work. The licenses are adapted to national law (and thus differ per country).
Combinations of the various licenses are possible and the licenses are layered: the easy to understand symbols (commons deeds), the entire legal text (the legal code), and a digital layer (the digital code) which can be linked to the creative work (or database).

7. Ghana: Strike register from 1995 to 2004, by Edward Ampratwum (Mphil Development Studies) from Ghana
Edward Ampratwum delivered a lecture on the developments in Ghana regarding strikes during the twentieth century. The 2003 Industrial Relations Act makes it almost impossible to have a fully legal strike in Ghana, but still quit a number of strikes take place in this country.
Strike activity seems to follow political developments more closely than it does in other countries. Following the data collected by the Labour department Edward showed micro-data in an excel-sheet and a MS Word-table. The data gives information on the economic sector, the name of the establishment, the number of directly and indirectly involved workers, begin and end date, the number of workdays or working hours lost, the causes of the strike and some general remarks.

8. Strikes in Russia by Leonid Borodkin and Irina Shilnikova (Moscow State University)
The Russian project to collect data on strikes that took place in the period prior to WWI, was an effort to restore the history of the Russian working class. This history was politicized in the years since the Russian revolution by the Bolshevist party ideologists who regarded almost all the strikes as political strikes. In fact, these strikes were expressions of worker discontent with their labour circumstances. We must keep in mind that the years between 1890 and 1915 showed an exceptional economic growth rate of seven percent on average. In more than one hundred archives historians gathered data on strikes. This work resulted in many thousands index cards with information following the historical source as closely as possible. There is only one kind of information which is more interpretational. The researchers gave a judgment regarding the cause of any given strike. This information was entered in the field, while de field contains the factual things the strikers demanded.
This whole set on information has been transferred into an Access database, which will be made relational in the future by Irina. The professions mentioned in the database will be given a HISCO coding, although it has so far been difficult for a number of professions to apply Hisco because no adequate translation from Russian to English has been found.

9. Strikes as a living strategy by Sjaak van der Velden (IISH).
Sjaak connected the micro-data on a textile strike in 1914 in the Dutch town of Leiden to information from the population register. The company archive contains lists of striking workers and the population register affords information about the religion, relatives, addresses etc. of the workers who went on strike and who did not. Did workers abstain from joining their striking colleagues because of their religious beliefs or their household composition, are only of the questions that can be answered by this kind of information. So far the results are very meager, but of course the sample is very small.

10. Final remarks
The workshop was successful in the way that several ways of looking at micro-data were treated. Sjaak will contact the editors of the International Review of Social History about the possibilities of publishing a special issue of the magazine.

The collection of micro-data should be based on a general format. This format can be in the form of a relational database, an spreadsheet or a table in a text programme. No matter what format the individual researcher chooses, the file must be accompanied by a codebook and open information about the structure. The format must at all times be voluntary to people who want to store their information with the project. It is no use to try to impose the format.

The database developed by Sjaak van der Velden must be changed such that it gives more room to national peculiarities. Sjaak and Leonid/Irina will 'negotiate' about the way the database will be changed.

Finally Dave Lyddon was thanked for his many instructive remarks.

______________________Sjaak van der Velden