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Unformatted text preview: AMERICAN WORKERS, AMERICAN UNIONS THE AMERICAN MOMENT Stanley I. Kutler, Series Editor AMERICAN WORKERS, AMERICAN UNIONS The Twentieth and Early TwentyFirst Centuries FOURTH EDITION Robert H. Zieger, Timothy J. Minchin, and Gilbert J. Gall © 2014 Johns Hopkins University Press All rights reserved. Published 2014 Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper 987654321 Johns Hopkins University Press 2715 North Charles Street Baltimore, Maryland 21218-4363 Library of Congress Cataloging-inPublication Data Zieger, Robert H. American workers, American unions : the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries / Robert H. Zieger, Timothy J. Minchin, and Gilbert J. Gall.—Fourth edition. pages cm.—(The American moment) Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN-13: 978-1-4214-1343-3 (paperback : acid-free paper) ISBN-10: 1-4214-1343-4 (paperback : acid-free paper) ISBN-13: 978-1-4214-1344-0 (electronic) ISBN-10: 1-4214-1344-2 (electronic) 1. Labor unions—United States— History—20th century. 2. Labor unions —United States—History—21st century. 3. Employees—United States—Social conditions. 4. Employees—United States —Economic conditions. 5. United States —Social conditions—20th century. 6. United States—Social conditions—21st century. 7. United States—Economic conditions—20th century. 8. United States—Economic conditions—21st century. I. Minchin, Timothy J. II. Gall, Gilbert J. III. Title. HD6508.Z53 2014 331.880973—dc23 2013036938 A catalog record for this book is available from the British Library. Special discounts are available for bulk purchases of this book. For more information, please contact Special Sales at 410-516-6936 or [email protected] Johns Hopkins University Press uses environmentally friendly book materials, including recycled text paper that is composed of at least 30 percent postconsumer waste, whenever possible. To Robert H. Zieger (1938-2013), who spent his life eloquently documenting the struggles of America’s working people CONTENTS Preface CHAPTER The New Industrial Regime 1 CHAPTER War, Prosperity, and 2 Depression, 1914-1933 CHAPTER Rebirth of the Unions, 3 1933-1939 CHAPTER Labor Goes to War, 19394 1945 CHAPTER Strikes, Politics, 5 Radicalism, 1945-1950 Affluent Workers, Stable CHAPTER Unions 6 Labor in the Postwar Decades CHAPTER Race, War, Politics 7 Labor in the 1960s CHAPTER Labor at the Close of the 8 Twentieth Century Losing Ground CHAPTER Workers and Unions since 9 9/11 Select Further Reading Index PREFACE This book began life in 1986 under the title American Workers, American Unions, 1920-1985. In 1994, Johns Hopkins University Press published a second edition under the same title but without the limiting dates. The second edition included partially revised versions of the original first six chapters, as well as an entirely rewritten final chapter. In 2002, a third edition embraced the entire twentieth century. This edition included a new first chapter focusing on the first two decades of the twentieth century, and a new final chapter that carried labor’s story through to the end of the century, with a brief mention of 9/11 at the conclusion. By 2011, more than a decade had passed since American Workers, American Unions had been revised. The authors agreed that a new edition was needed to bring the story up to date, one that provided rare scholarly coverage of the main events affecting American workers in the turbulent and important period since 2000. Major events covered in the fourth edition include the long-term effects of 9/11 on workers, the growth of the immigrant work force, and the acceleration of deindustrialization. We also assess labor’s efforts to organize workers in the growing service and retail sectors, particularly its major campaigns at Walmart and Starbucks. Finally, the fourth edition covers labor’s political mobilization in a conservative political era, especially its fight for labor law reform and the significant role unions played in electing Barack Obama in both the 2008 and the 2012 presidential elections. For the fourth edition, we have revised chapter 8 to incorporate new scholarship and give much more detailed coverage of American workers in the 1970s. The earlier chapters remain largely as they appeared in the third edition. Timothy J. Minchin wrote chapter 9, except for the section on the high-profile protests by government workers, which was composed by Gilbert J. Gall. Minchin and Gall also added the material on the 1970s. Carefully overseeing the writing of the new edition, Robert H. Zieger edited the manuscript, particularly the new material. Tragically, Robert H. Zieger died suddenly in March 2013. After his death, we agreed on the importance of completing the project, and worked together to see the new edition into production. Bob was very proud of this book, which fulfilled his deep-seated desire to communicate the history of America’s working people beyond the academy. We hope that the fourth edition —which builds on the popularity of the earlier editions while updating the story of American workers—will again be helpful to general readers, especially students and labor educators. To make room for new material and to keep the book within manageable page limits, we decided to eliminate the extensive bibliographical essay contained in the first edition and updated in the second edition. It has been partly replaced by a new concise bibliographical essay, intended to give readers a sense of key works for each chapter. The longer bibliographical essay that appeared in the second edition remains online at Timothy J. Minchin Gilbert J. Gall AMERICAN WORKERS, AMERICAN UNIONS CHAPTER 1 THE NEW INDUSTRIAL REGIME During the first quarter of the twentieth century, the world of American workers abounded in paradox. Technology and division of labor eroded traditional manual skills even as education levels rose. The work day shortened and the use of child labor declined, but the pace of work intensified. Life expectancy lengthened, public health advances became commonplace, and improved nutrition produced taller, heavier, and healthier workers. At the same time, however, promiscuous use of untested chemicals and unregulated workplace environments gave rise to new deformities and illness. Each year, thousands were killed and maimed in America’s notoriously unsafe work sites. Wages rose, and access to a wide range of consumer goods expanded, even as poverty and complaints of exploitation and alienation remained widespread. Prophets of harmonious industrial relations were never more vocal, yet both system-challenging radicalism and savage labor confrontations flourished at this dawning of the mass production regime. It was in these years that the classic industrial proletariat fully emerged. Yet even as the proportion of workers engaged in industrial and related pursuits surpassed for the first time that of agricultural workers, the numbers of men and women doing service, educational, clerical, and communications work rose even more dramatically. The new kinds of workers needed to make the new industrial system operate at once benefited and alarmed employers. The millions of eastern and southern European immigrants, African Americans from the South, and women pouring into the factories, shops, and offices were critical for the success of the mass production regime. At the same time, however, they added diverse and volatile elements to the labor force, often challenging managerial control of the workplace and sometimes linking up with veteran labor activists to create potent mass unions. Indeed, during this period, labor organizations both gained unprecedented strength, recognition, and influence, on the one hand, and suffered from harsh governmental repression and unrelenting employer antagonism on the other. Work A new century brought new kinds of workplace experiences. The very character of much wage work changed. To be sure, laborers still dug ditches, longshoremen still off-loaded cargo, railroaders still shoveled coal into locomotive fireboxes, and women still stitched garments and toiled as domestic servants. Construction sites retained many traditional work practices. Threequarters-of-a-million coal miners still burrowed into the earth, relying more on the pick and shovel than on the new cutting machines that had begun to appear. Much agricultural labor remained heavy, tedious, and unmechanized. But, more and more, workers now toiled in large, integrated factories and other large work sites. While the number of domestic servants continued to increase, commercial laundries now employed thousands of women. Huge factories equipped with power hand tools employed thousands of workers as new systems of labor organization and mass production supplanted traditional methods. For example, in 1914, Henry Ford’s Highland Park, Michigan, plant had 15,000 power-driven machines on site that outnumbered its 13,000 workers. Clerical work, once the province of faithful scriveners and copyists, was being rapidly expanded and reorganized, with thousands of young women using typewriters and calculating machines to process the rivers of data that an increasingly bureaucratic society generated. On the farms, horses and mules were giving way to tractors, trucks, and mechanized farm equipment. It was only with slight exaggeration that Democratic presidential candidate Woodrow Wilson observed in 1912 “that nothing is done in this country as it was done twenty years ago. … We have changed our economic conditions, absolutely, from top to bottom.” At the heart of the restructuring of industrial work, in particular, lay the incessant effort of employers to reduce costs and increase production. Engineers and managers were determined to restructure the labor process. The metalworking trades, by virtue of their role in fashioning the machines that made other machines, were crucial to this process. And it was the proud machinists, whose skill and craft knowledge gave them sovereign power on the shop floor, who often stood in the path of increased managerial control. Only by breaking traditional practices in metalworking into simpler, routinized tasks could the engineer take full advantage of a proliferating array of metal-cutting, -shaping, and -boring machines to increase production, reduce costs, and—perhaps most importantly— leach control of the work process itself from the skilled machinist and relocate it in the hands of management. Machinists, declared Frederick W. Taylor, an influential promoter of this system of “scientific management,” “must be taught to work under an improved system. … Each man must learn how to give up his own particular way of doing things.” The good worker, in this view, was no longer the man whose experience and skill enabled him to exercise individual judgment. Rather it was the man who could “adapt his methods to the … new standards, and grow accustomed to receiving and obeying directions.” This drive for greater speed of production generated a whole new “science” of time and motion study as engineers observed workers and recorded work processes, often employing motion picture cameras, to determine the “one best way” to perform a given task and to establish standards of speed and efficiency to be applied uniformly by management in controlling, disciplining, and compensating workers. Nor were these methods of control confined to the machine shops. Variations of Taylor’s methods appeared everywhere, as employers sought to increase employee effort and output through division of labor and eradication of customary work routines. Steelmakers, for example, introduced powered cranes and conveyors, along with self-regulating furnaces, that usurped the work of skilled puddlers and furnacemen. In the finishing mills, workers who had previously fashioned finished products such as rails and beams from raw material were now tenders of the machines that performed the tasks. Declared a British observer in 1902, “The workmen in America do not act upon their own judgment, but carry out the instructions given to them.” The country’s burgeoning offices, banks, and insurance companies aggressively subdivided work as well. Squadrons of young women recorded, typed, and processed information according to increasingly elaborate managerial directives. “Time and motion study,” declared one proponent of office Taylorism, “reveal just as startling results in the ordinary details of clerical work as they do in the factory,” and he advised ambitious managers to observe, record, and analyze “every motion of the hand or body, every thought, no matter how simple” of his subordinates so as to maximize office predictability and efficiency. Certainly, new machines and new methods of organizing work raised production and productivity. Between 1899 and 1925, total manufacturing output tripled. During that span, the nation’s workers increased production of paper products by over 400 percent, chemicals by 370 percent, and vehicles by over 1,000 percent. Even older sectors such as steel and textiles showed remarkable gains. And rising production was accompanied by rising productivity: Farmers and farm workers produced one-third more per man-hour in 1925 than they had in 1909, miners 87 percent more, and workers in manufacturing generally 72 percent more. Whole new industries arose, such as the manufacturing of household electrical appliances, with employers like Western Electric, General Electric, and Westinghouse pioneering the introduction of managerial and technical innovations. The rise of mass production raised important questions about the physical and psychological well-being of workers. Critics warned that modern mechanical processes deprived workers of a sense of pride in their work and turned them into appendages of the machines they operated. Thus, a visitor to one automobile plant likened work on the assembly line to slavery: There stood the worker, wielding his electric rivet gun in endlessly repetitive motions, as the automatic conveyer chain pulled half-finished auto chassis, hour after hour, “day after day, year after year. … The pace never varies. The man is part of the chain, the feeder and the slave of it.” But some evidence contradicted the picture of drone-line automatons facing a bleak and numbing future. What of the substantial increases in the numbers and proportions of workers in managerial, supervisory, and record-keeping functions? Between 1914 and 1917, for example, the proportion of workers assigned to supervisory jobs tripled after automaker Henry Ford introduced the moving assembly line to his Highland Park, Michigan, plant. In the manufacturing industry overall, the increase in supervisory workers was 50 percent higher than the rise in the number of production workers. Since supervisory positions increasingly entailed considerable schooling, both prior to and during the period of employment, the growth of supervisory employment translated into an elevation of the skill level in the working class. To be sure, old-fashioned craftsmen often ridiculed this new layer of supervisors and foremen, regarding them as merely the bosses’ lackeys. But for their part, men whose skills, education, and experience had gained them supervisory positions often looked down on ordinary production workers; they valued the increased job security and opportunities for advancement and the greater income that elevation to even the lower ranks of management offered. The daughters of wage workers in particular benefited from increased access to education. Starting in the 1890s, the school-leaving age steadily advanced. Whereas in 1910, only 9 percent of age-eligible youngsters had attained a high school diploma, by 1930 almost 30 percent had graduated. These gains were particularly notable for women—who, in the first two decades of the century, graduated from high school at a rate half again that of boys. Business “colleges,” teaching stenography, bookkeeping, and other office skills sprang up everywhere, and women enrolling in and graduating from these schools outnumbered men. By 1910, corporations for the first time were hiring more women than men for office work. The Remington Company, manufacturers of office and business equipment, for example, boasted of its role in introducing a generation of young women “to paying positions and the means to a bigger life.” Working-class families saw office work and employment as a telephone operator, both of which required at least some high school education, as important avenues of social advancement for their daughters. While typists, stenographers, file clerks, and telephone operators might not have possessed the same kinds of skills as machinists and iron puddlers, who was to say that the rising proportion of the labor force that they represented contributed to some overall reduction in the proportion of the work force entitled to the designation “skilled”? Indeed, some observers argued that that term was an unusually slippery and elusive one during a time when the character and location of wage work was changing so rapidly. Why were male printers classified as “skilled,” for example, while female typists, whose duties often included considerable editorial services, were classified as “semiskilled”? Why was a switchboard operator, who wielded her phone plugs with impressive dexterity while dealing judiciously with impatient callers, not to be considered “skilled”? Indeed, the definitions of skill that the U.S. Census applied in its decadal surveys of occupations, it often seemed, rested more on the gender or ethnicity of those performing the tasks rather than the inherent character of the work performed. Then, too, was the fact that while mass production did indeed entail subdivision of labor, it also boosted demand for the skilled workers who produced, installed, and serviced the great machines that drove the mass production system. Thus, despite innovation, restructuring, and mass production in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the proportion of craftsmen in the labor force remained surprisingly stable. True, by World War I it was more likely that a machinist worked on discrete subassemblies rather than fashioning items from inception to finished product; or he serviced and maintained the complex machinery. Even so, the amount of training, skill, and experience needed to install and maintain the huge turbines, milling machines, and generators was considerable, enabling those who performed these tasks to actually increase their wages relative to those of mere laborers and operatives, even as their numbers tripled between 1880 and 1910. While some workers lamented the decline of hand craftsmanship, others were proud of their roles in building, installing, and repairing the state-of-theart equipment that mass production relied upon. If changes in the character and content of work had a diffuse impact on overall skill levels, they also had diverse effects on the pace, duration, and physical demands of work. Increasing technological innovation, for example, greatly reduced the proportion of workers classified as “unskilled,” just as it tended to reduce the use of child labor. As conveyers, motor vehicles, and electrically driven machinery came on line, they erased thousands of jobs that required sheer physical effort. In the steel mills, new machinery eliminated many of the most difficult and most dangerous jobs. At the loading docks of one steel mill, for example, power shovels now performed the work of almost eight hundred men who had hand shoveled the vast piles of iron ore bound for the furnaces, reducing manpower needs by 90 percent. The mechanical shaping of red-hot iron bars and hand charging an open-hearth furnace eliminated hot, dangerous jobs that, one employer remarked, had required “gorilla men.” Now, increasingly, in steel, autos, and other booming industries, the proportion of workers employed in...
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