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Representation and Rebellion

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In response to the tragedy of the Ludlow Massacre, John D. Rockefeller Jr. introduced one of the nation's first employee representation plans (ERPs) to the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company in 1915. With the advice of William Mackenzie King, who would go on to become prime minister of Canada, the plan - which came to be known as the Rockefeller Plan - was in use until 1942 and became the model for ERPs all over the world. In Representation and Rebellion Jonathan Rees uses a variety of primary sources - including records recently discovered at the company's former headquarters in Pueblo, Colorado - to tell the story of the Rockefeller Plan and those who lived under it, as well as to detail its various successes and failures. Taken as a whole, the history of the Rockefeller Plan is not the story of ceaseless oppression and stifled militancy that its critics might imagine, but it is also not the story of the creation of a paternalist panacea for labor unrest that Rockefeller hoped it would be. Addressing key issues of how this early twentieth-century experiment fared from 1915 to 1942, Rees argues that the Rockefeller Plan was a limited but temporarily effective alternative to independent unionism in the wake of the Ludlow Massacre. The book will appeal to business and labor historians, political scientists, and sociologists, as well as those studying labor and industrial relations.

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9 Chapters

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CHAPTER ONE: MEMORIES OF A MASSACRE

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What can businessmen do to clean up the rot that these muckrakers and demagogues have dumped on our door?

—COLORADO FUEL AND IRON COMPANY CHAIR AND VICE PRESIDENT LAMONT BOWERS, 1914 1

In 1918, John D. Rockefeller Jr. made his second trip to Colorado since the Great Coalfield War of 1913–1914. On May 30 a chauffeur-driven car carrying him, his wife, Abby, and Mackenzie King arrived at a gathering of approximately 3,000 working people in southern Colorado. This multiethnic and multiracial crowd had assembled for the dedication of a monument to the victims of the Ludlow Massacre, which had occurred at that spot during the infamous strike a little more than four years earlier. A few of the leaders of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) who had organized the dedication ceremony for the monument had learned the previous evening that Rockefeller planned on attending and wanted to speak, but they had not yet decided on a response. Rockefeller’s presence at the gathering was an issue because many in the audience felt he was responsible for the deaths of the people being memorialized. In his role as primary stockholder, director, and de facto owner of the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company (CF&I)—the victims’ employer—Rockefeller had supported management’s uncompromising refusal to bargain with the union during the coal field war. Union leaders were afraid there would be an embarrassing or even a dangerous incident if he attended, let alone spoke. They communicated this fear to King, who went back into the vehicle to explain the situation to the passengers. The Rockefellers sped off without leaving the car.2

 

CHAPTER TWO: STUDENT AND TEACHER

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As you know all my life I have sought to stand between labor and capital, trying to sympathize with and understand the point of view of each, and seeking to modify the extreme attitude of each and bring them into cooperation.

JOHN D. ROCKEFELLER JR. TO HARRY EMERSON FOSDICK, DECEMBER 19, 19271

When John D. Rockefeller Jr. introduced the employee representation plan (ERP) that would bear his name before an audience of miners in Pueblo, he explained that four parties are involved in every corporation: the stockholders, directors, officers, and employees. He then compared Colorado Fuel and Iron (CF&I) to a table:

This little table [exhibiting a square table with four legs] illustrates my conception of a corporation. . . . First, you see that it would not be complete unless it had all four sides. Each side is necessary: each side has its own part to play. . . .

Then, secondly, I call your attention to the fact that these four sides are all perfectly joined together. . . . Likewise, if the parties interested in a corporation are not perfectly joined together, harmoniously working together, you have a discordant and unsuccessful corporation.

 

CHAPTER THREE: BETWEEN TWO EXTREMES

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Between the extreme of individual agreements on the one side, and an agreement involving recognition of unions of national and international character on the other, lies the straight acceptance of the principle of Collective Bargaining between capital and labour immediately concerned in any group of industries, and the construction of machinery which will afford opportunity of easy and constant conference between employers and employed with reference to matters of concern to both, such machinery to be constructed as a means on the one hand of preventing labour from being exploited, and on the other, of ensuring cordial cooperation which is likely to further industrial efficiency.

—MACKENZIE KING TO JOHN D. ROCKEFELLER JR., AUGUST 6, 1914 1

Since the inception of employee representation plans (ERPs) around the beginning of the twentieth century, trade unionists and others sympathetic to workers have denounced ERPs such as the one in use at Colorado Fuel and Iron (CF&I) as “company unions” because of management’s tendency to control the course and result of deliberations. For example, Mother Jones wrote in her autobiography, “I told him [John D. Rockefeller Jr.] that his plan for settling industrial disputes would not work. That it was a sham and a fraud. That behind the representative of the miner was no organization so that the workers were powerless to enforce any just demand; that their demands were granted and grievances redressed still at the will of the company.”2 Arguing in favor of banning such arrangements in 1935 as part of his National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), Senator Robert Wagner claimed they made “a sham of equal bargaining power by restricting employee cooperation to a single employer unit at a time when business men [were] allowed to band together in large groups.”3 Because many firms created ERPs of questionable legitimacy during the 1930s to avoid the requirements of the NLRA, the reputation of such organizations inside and outside the labor movement had grown steadily worse over time.4 But what if a “company union” was not a sham?

 

CHAPTER FOUR: DIVISIONS IN THE RANKS

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Under the Industrial Representation Plan, you are like a general without an army.

UNNAMED CF&I EMPLOYEE REPRESENTATIVE QUOTED IN BEN M. SELEKMAN, 19241

Andrew J. Diamond was born in Joliet, Illinois, on June 27, 1877. In 1896 he went to work in the rod mill at Illinois Steel Company, which became part of the giant U.S. Steel Corporation in 1901. Diamond left Illinois Steel to take a series of jobs at small independent mills throughout the Midwest and then began a three-year stint at Colorado Fuel and Iron (CF&I) in 1903. Through working these jobs, he became a member of the Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel and Tin Plate Workers, the only independent union representing workers in the steel industry at the time. In 1913, Diamond returned to CF&I to work in the rod mill. When CF&I steelworkers began representation under the Rockefeller Plan in 1916, he signed his name to the Memorandum of Agreement since his colleagues had elected him a representative for his division of the mill. He served for four years, took a brief break, and then returned to service as a representative under the employee representative plan (ERP). In 1925, Diamond became chair of the employee representatives at the Minnequa Works, a position he held until the National Labor Relations Board ordered management to dismantle the ERP in 1942.2

 

CHAPTER FIVE: THE ROCKEFELLER PLAN IN ACTION: THE MINES

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The miners never lost anything at any of them [Rockefeller Plan] meetings that I ever know of. . . . They got everything they asked for at these meetings.

—FORMER CF&I MINER BILL LLOYD, MAY 18, 1978 1

In the late summer and fall of 1919, before Colorado Fuel and Iron (CF&I) became embroiled in a nationwide coal strike, Paul F. Brissenden of the U.S. Department of Labor conducted a series of meetings across southern Colorado among union miners, non-union miners, and local managers. On August 13 the superintendent of the company’s Starkville Mine wrote Elmer Weitzel, the manager of all CF&I mines at the time, about one such meeting there. “They took a standing vote on the Rockefeller Plan and everyone voted against the Plan but three men,” he reported.2 On August 15 Weitzel wrote CF&I president Jesse Welborn about a similar meeting at Sopris with 130 miners. “When the vote on the Industrial Plan was taken,” he reported, “the vote was unanimous against the plan.” At Pictou the miners held a secret ballot referendum on the Rockefeller Plan, with fifty-nine voting against the plan and only four voting for it.3 As Brissenden later explained, “At most of the meetings the great majority of those in attendance were members of the Union, although there was in nearly every case a group of non-union men present. I recall talking personally at these meetings with a number of non-union men. . . . In some of the mines the great majority of the employees are members of the United Mine Workers.”4 Welborn later received detailed reports of all the meetings from Brissenden.5 Had management actually listened to the reports of the meetings, they would have recognized that the Rockefeller Plan was not nearly as popular as John D. Rockefeller Jr. and Mackenzie King had hoped it would be.

 

CHAPTER SIX: THE ROCKEFELLER PLAN IN ACTION: THE MILL

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It is easy to have harmony if we give the other fellow everything he asks for.

J. F. CHAPMAN, SUPERINTENDENT, MINNEQUA WORKS, 19241

On September 25, 1919, President Woodrow Wilson delivered the final speech of his nationwide tour in support of the Treaty of Versailles and the Charter of the League of Nations contained therein at Pueblo’s new Civic Auditorium. Among those in the audience were striking steelworkers from the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company (CF&I) who had left their jobs three days before. Among the least-remembered parts of the Treaty of Versailles is a series of clauses relating to international labor rights. Most important among them was the one that created the International Labor Organization, which still exists today. While these clauses received little attention at other stops on his tour, Wilson did not ignore the issue in Pueblo:

Reject this treaty and this is the consequence to laboring men of the world, there is no international tribunal which can bring the moral judgments of the world to bear upon the great labor questions of the day.

 

CHAPTER SEVEN: NEW UNION, SAME STRUGGLE

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I am a wobblie and I am glad I am a tool against the Rockerfeller [sic] Plan.

—CF&I MINER SAM CASADOS, IN A LETTER TO HIS UNCLE, JOE BAROS, THAT MANAGEMENT INTERCEPTED, 1927 1

On the morning of November 21, 1927, five weeks into a strike that had stopped production at most coal mines across Colorado, approximately 500 miners and their wives arrived at the north gate of the Columbine Mine. Permanent replacement workers had kept this mine running during the strike, so deputy sheriffs and state police were there to meet the group. “Who are your leaders?” the head of the state police contingent shouted to the strikers. “We are all leaders!” they responded in unison. After more taunts were exchanged, strike leader Adam Bell asked the police to unlock the gates to the mine. When he put his hand on the gate, a policeman struck him with a club. Other police started to throw rocks at the miners, and the miners threw them back at the police. When the miners forced their way through the gate, the police fired into the crowd, killing 6 and wounding at least 25.2 This incident became known as the Columbine Massacre.3 It was the deadliest but by no means the only violent incident to occur during the Colorado mine strike of 1927–1928.

 

CHAPTER EIGHT: DEPRESSION, FRUSTRATION, AND REAL COMPETITION

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[T]he success of the Joint Representation Plan within the Minnequa Plant has been largely due to the continual efforts on the part of the men and representatives to keep it morally clean. I have never considered our Plan a “paper plan.” If these things which have come to mean so much to the employees, and which came to them through the Plan, are to be discontinued or modified, I think it will in some measure destroy the spirit and attitude of the men towards the Plan of Joint Representation within the Minnequa Plant of the C.F.&I. Co.

—ANDREW DIAMOND TO JOHN D. ROCKEFELLER JR., AUGUST 23, 1933 1

Throughout the 1920s, John D. Rockefeller Jr. took his family on various vacations in the American West and often stopped in southern Colorado. While visiting Pueblo in 1926, Rockefeller and his sons toured the Minnequa Works twice in the same day—once during the morning and once during the evening so the boys could see the plant in operation both during the day and at night, when the fires in the furnaces were more impressive.2 Unlike his earlier trips in 1915 and 1918, few reporters followed Rockefeller on this visit. However, the Industrial Bulletin does mention that he met with a delegation of employee representatives from the steel mill, including the representatives’ chair, Andy Diamond. At the next regular meeting of the workers who served under the employee representation plan (ERP), Diamond “stated that during the interview Mr. Rockefeller said he would be glad to have those present carry back to the men the information that he is more interested in the success of the Industrial Plan today than ever before, and to thank the representatives for the important part they play in making the Plan a success.”3 Almost seventy-five years later Rockefeller’s son David recalled, “We spent a day in Pueblo touring the Colorado Fuel & Iron’s large steel mills and meeting representatives of the company union. Father greeted a number of the men by name, and they seemed pleased to see him. I remember being a bit startled by the experience but impressed with my father’s forthright manner and the easy way he dealt with the men and their families.”4 This warmth was a sign that the employee representatives at the steelworks still trusted Rockefeller to follow through on the promises he had made during the early days of the plan.

 

CONCLUSION

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Men versed in the tenets of freedom become restive when not allowed to be free.

—SENATOR ROBERT WAGNER OF NEW YORK, MARCH 11, 1934 1

Increasingly uninterested in his earlier efforts at labor relations reform as the decades passed, John D. Rockefeller Jr. never acknowledged that his experiment in industrial relations at the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company (CF&I) had gone wrong. The Rockefeller Plan did not bring labor peace to the company, a failure that hurt its financial position at a time when CF&I could ill afford any setbacks. A 1949 letter from a disgruntled former CF&I stockholder, Howard Briggs, explains the inevitable result of labor trouble in two highly competitive, increasingly depressed industries:

I am writing this letter to call to your attention something which was written some 30 years ago, and which impressed me at that time as being exceptionally fine. The booklet I refer to was entitled—“The Three Legged Stool.” One leg represented the public, the second labor and the third ownership. This would have been a wonderful theory had it been carried out! However, as you know, the leg representing ownership was either cut off, or fell off the stool. In my 40 years of ownership (or over) I cannot recall having ever received anything from the common stock.2

 

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