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History of the United States by Charles A. Beard and Mary R. Beard

«·INDUSTRIAL DEMOCRACY · The Rise and Growth of Organized Labor·»

Coöperation between Employers and Employees

Company Unions.—The changed economic life described by the three eminent men just quoted was acknowledged by several great companies and business concerns. All over the country decided efforts were made to bridge the gulf which industry and the corporation had created. Among the devices adopted was that of the “company union.” In one of the Western lumber mills, for example, all the employees were invited to join a company organization; they held monthly meetings to discuss matters of common concern; they elected a “shop committee” to confer with the representatives of the company; and periodically the agents of the employers attended the conferences of the men to talk over matters of mutual interest. The function of the shop committee was to consider wages, hours, safety rules, sanitation, recreation and other problems. Whenever any employee had a grievance he took it up with the foreman and, if it was not settled to his satisfaction, he brought it before the shop committee. If the members of the shop committee decided in favor of the man with a grievance, they attempted to settle the matter with the company’s agents. All these things failing, the dispute was transferred to a grand meeting of all the employees with the employers’ representatives, in common council. A deadlock, if it ensued from such a conference, was broken by calling in impartial arbitrators selected by both sides from among citizens outside the mill. Thus the employees were given a voice in all decisions affecting their work and welfare; rights and grievances were treated as matters of mutual interest rather than individual concern. Representatives of trade unions from outside, however, were rigidly excluded from all negotiations between employers and the employees.

Profit-sharing.—Another proposal for drawing capital and labor together was to supplement the wage system by other ties. Sometimes lump sums were paid to employees who remained in a company’s service for a definite period of years. Again they were given a certain percentage of the annual profits. In other instances, employees were allowed to buy stock on easy terms and thus become part owners in the concern. This last plan was carried so far by a large soap manufacturing company that the employees, besides becoming stockholders, secured the right to elect representatives to serve on the board of directors who managed the entire business. So extensive had profit-sharing become by 1914 that the Federal Industrial Relations Committee, appointed by the President, deemed it worthy of a special study. Though opposed by regular trade unions, it was undoubtedly growing in popularity.

Labor Managers and Welfare Work.—Another effort of employers to meet the problems of the new age appeared in the appointment of specialists, known as employment managers, whose task it was to study the relations existing between masters and workers and discover practical methods for dealing with each grievance as it arose. By 1918, hundreds of big companies had recognized this modern “profession” and universities were giving courses of instruction on the subject to young men and women. In that year a national conference of employment managers was held at Rochester, New York. The discussion revealed a wide range of duties assigned to managers, including questions of wages, hours, sanitation, rest rooms, recreational facilities, and welfare work of every kind designed to make the conditions in mills and factories safer and more humane. Thus it was evident that hundreds of employers had abandoned the old idea that they were dealing merely with individual employees and that their obligations ended with the payment of any wages they saw fit to fix. In short, they were seeking to develop a spirit of coöperation to take the place of competition and enmity; and to increase the production of commodities by promoting the efficiency and happiness of the producers.

«·INDUSTRIAL DEMOCRACY · The Rise and Growth of Organized Labor·»