Employers, Unite! Organized Employer Reactions to the Labor Union Challenge in the Progressive Era
National Association of Manufacturers
National Civic Federation
business influence in politics
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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Abstract"Employers, Unite!" argues that the anti-union campaign of Progressive-Era organized employers molded in crucial ways the shape of labor relations in the United States, and that to understand the development of ideas about work, business, and labor unions, we need to understand how these employers gained and wielded political and societal power.The study concentrates on the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), which spearheaded what it termed the "open-shop'' campaign. Focusing attention on the unions' demand for the closed or union shop, the NAM shifted the debate over labor relations from workplace conditions to the legitimacy of unions as representatives of workers, identifying not employers but union leaders as the source of injustices.At the heart of the study is an analysis of over 100 active members of the NAM, organized through a relational database constructed with the help of recently digitized materials like local histories and biographical compendia. Besides basic information like company size or demographics, the database maps information about NAM members' social and political contacts. Substantial archival materials further ground the study's analysis of the NAM's structure and influence.Research on the membership has allowed me to uncover information that focusing on the leadership would not have revealed. For example, I have found that a high percentage of active NAM members were party activists and officials, mostly in the Republican party; their positions in the party hierarchy gave them influence over political nominations and Congressional committee appointments. Active NAM members also regularly had personal contacts to politicians ranging from governors to Senators; these contacts further bolstered the Association's power, enabling it to torpedo much of labor's legislative project.The study also compares the NAM to other business organizations, especially the National Civic Federation (NCF). The NCF promoted cooperation with moderate unions, a position which the NAM frequently and vehemently criticized. Rhetorical differences, however, masked an underlying agreement among businessmen regarding the undesirability of unions. The rhetorical disjuncture between the organizations served to constrain debate on labor relations: the NAM's stridency made the NCF appear genuinely progressive and thereby undercut other, more far-reaching critiques of existing workplace relations.
Degree ProgramGraduate College