Commission on Industrial Relations

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The Commission on Industrial Relations (also known as the Walsh Commission)[1] was a commission created by the U.S. Congress on August 23, 1912. The commission studied work conditions throughout the industrial United States between 1913 and 1915. The final report of the Commission, published in eleven volumes in 1916, contain tens of thousands of pages of testimony from a wide range of witnesses, including Clarence Darrow, Louis Brandeis, Mary Harris "Mother" Jones, Theodore Schroeder, William "Big Bill" Haywood, scores of ordinary workers, and the icons of capitalism, including Daniel Guggenheim, George Walbridge Perkins, Sr. (of U.S. Steel), Henry Ford, and Andrew Carnegie.[2]

Predecessors[edit]

In 1871, there was a failed attempt to create an Industrial Commission. There was also the Hewitt committee hearings of 1878-79, the three-year study of the Blair committee which ended in 1886, and a probe conducted from 1898-1902 by the United States Industrial Commission, appointed by President William McKinley.[3][4]

Origins[edit]

Rubble of the Times building after the bombing

In 1910 two leaders of the Structural Ironworkers Union, the McNamara Brothers dynamited the Los Angeles Times building, killing twenty people. There was public outcry as a result and so President William Howard Taft proposed and Congress approved the creation of a nine-person investigative committee called the Commission on Industrial Relations.[5] The Commission on Industrial Relations got its name from a petition presented to President Taft on December 30, 1911, entitled "Petition to the President for a Federal Commission on Industrial Relations", signed by twenty eight prominent people,[6] Members of the Committee on Standards of Living and Labor of the National Conference of Charities and Corrections, many who were charity workers involved with Survey magazine began a petition drive calling for a federal commission set up to investigate the causes of industrial violence.[7]

Commission members[edit]

The Commission was made up of nine commissioners, all nominated by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. All but one served from beginning to end. The original nine Commissioners were:

Shortly before the Commission's final report, Commissioner Delano resigned, and was replaced by Richard Aishton, vice-president of the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad.

Congress had authorized the Commission shortly before the 1912 presidential election, in which incumbent President Taft was defeated by New Jersey Governor Woodrow Wilson. Four Commissioners ultimately confirmed were originally named by President Taft in December 1912, one month after his defeat: Commissioners Delano, O'Connell, Garretson and Lennon. Taft also nominated five other persons, but the Senate failed to confirm them. Those failed nominees were U.S. Senator George Sutherland of Utah (who was Taft's proposed chairman), Connecticut state legislator George B. Chandler (American Book Co.), Charles S. Barrett (Farmers' Union); Adolph Lewisohn (investment banker, copper magnate, and philanthropist); and F. C. Schwedtman (electrical engineer).

Two months after entering the White House,[9] President Wilson nominated replacements for Taft's five failed nominees.

Investigation[edit]

The Commission's responsibilities were to:

"inquire into the general condition of labor in the principal industries of the United States, including agriculture, and especially in those which are carried on in corporate forms ...; into the growth of associations of employers and of wage earners and the effect of such associations upon the relations between employers and employees ..."[10]

The commission held 154 days of hearings.[4] Walsh's leadership of the Commission attracted media attention and publicity.[11][12] Some of the commission findings included:

  1. The Commission found that lumber workers in the Northwest labored at their jobs for ten hours a day at only twenty cents an hour.
  2. Seasonal unemployment effected tens of thousands of people in Pacific Coast cities. Only the fortunate averaged more than a meal a day.
  3. In California, migrant laborers work in fields with temperatures up to 105 degrees Fahrenheit on farms where growers refused to supply them water in the fields.
  4. One Paterson, New Jersey silk mill fined workers fifty cents for talking and fifty cents for laughing while at work.[13]

"In an era of...muckraking, the [commission] raised the technique to an unprecedented height."[13]

The commission studied several major strikes which occurred during its investigations, including:

  1. The Paterson, New Jersey silk mill strike (1911–1913), led by the Industrial Workers of the World,
  2. New York City garment workers strike (1909–1910),
  3. Illinois Central and Harriman lines struggles with the railroad shopmen (1911–1915),
  4. The Colorado Fuel and Iron Company strike, where the Ludlow Massacre occurred (1913-1914).[11][14]

When Walsh embarrassed President Wilson, and suggested investigating the southern states, U.S. Senator Hoke Smith of Georgia attempted to cut Walsh's budget 75 percent.[13] The vote failed, and Walsh promptly sent investigators to Smith's state, making lasting and powerful enemies.[12]

Journalist Walter Lippman stated there was "an atmosphere of no quarter" when Walsh subpoenaed then questioned John D. Rockefeller, Jr. about the Ludlow massacre. For three days Walsh publicly chastised Rockefeller.[15]

Historian Montgomery stated that the commission found:

"repression by police, judicial, and military agencies, which envisaged themselves as the defenders of society's "good people." And in each case but Philadelphia, where the public as a whole was irate over the general conduct of the transit company, the "good people" in turn indorsed the repression. Small wonder that in all these strikes, and above all in the sanguinary three-year conflict on the Illinois Central Railroad, workers simply took the law into their own hands."[3]

Commission conclusions[edit]

Unable to agree on many points, the Commission published three different final reports.[16] One of the reports — primarily written by Commissioner Commons, with Commissioner Harriman — was signed by a bare majority of five Commissioners. Instead of calling for "industrial democracy," the Commons' report instead advocated the creation of impartial labor boards. It did not characterize conflict between labor and management as an inevitable and permanent condition. Commons' report expressed fear that the Commission's report would "throw the [labor] movement into politics."[16]

The report signed by Chairman Walsh and Commissioners Lennon, O'Connell and Garretson, written by attorney Basil Manly, was much more provocative and accusatory in its tone and conclusions.[1][17] Its centerpiece was a call for industrial democracy.

That report explained the conditions of agricultural estates:

"It is industrial feudalism in an extreme form. Such estates are, as a rule, the property of absentee landlords, who are for the most part millionaires, resident in the eastern States or in Europe."[18]

Regarding conditions in company towns, the Manly report observed that they displayed "every aspect of feudalism except the recognition of special duties on the part of the employer."[19]

A separate supplemental statement joined only by Commissioners Lennon and McConnell opposed the creation of an agency-administered system of mediation and arbitration, in favor of strengthening trade unions (and employer associations). Their statement concluded:

"Where (labor) organization is lacking, dangerous discontent is found on every hand; low wages and long hours prevail; exploitation in every direction is practiced; the people become sullen, have no regard for law and government, and are, in reality, a latent volcano, as dangerous to society as are the volcanoes of nature to the landscape surrounding them."
"We hold that efforts to stay the organization of labor or to restrict the right of employees to organize should not be tolerated, but that the opposite policy should prevail, and the organization of the trade unions and of the employers' organizations should be promoted...This country is no longer a field for slavery, and where men and women are compelled, in order that they may live, to work under conditions in determining which they have no voice, they are not far removed from a condition existing under feudalism or slavery."[20]

Public response[edit]

The New Republic observed that the commission had gone well beyond its duties to investigate the "cause and cure" of labor unrest. In promoting industrial democracy, it offered a "tonic" for American democracy itself.[1] The Seattle Union Record exclaimed that the report was "an indictment against organized capital.[16] The journal The Masses stated the report signaled "the beginning of an indigenous American revolutionary movement.[16]

Others criticized the report. The New York Herald characterized the Commission's president as "a Mother Jones in trousers."[16] In 1916, Republican Presidential candidate Charles Evans Hughes called the commission "one of the tragic incidents of the present administration" which had "accomplished nothing".[21] The president of the Pittsburgh Employers' Association stated publicly that Walsh "should be assassinated."[22]

Longterm influence[edit]

The influence the report had on US politics is debated.

Historian Adams argues and historian Galambos agrees that the Commission's hearings and reports influenced the passage of such labor legislation as the Adamson Eight-Hour Act.[23][24] Historian Rayback explains that the commission's report influenced the decisions of the War Labor Board and the authors of New Deal labor legislation.[14]

Historian Montgomery states:

"The uniqueness of the efforts of the Commission on Industrial Relations between 1913 and 1915 lay in its staff of Wisconsin-trained experts and in the steadfast refusal of its nine members to allow any diversion of their attention from immediate problems of industrial relations. These very qualities paradoxically imparted to the commission a political significance greater than that of all previous investigations combined, for out of its work emerged both a labor program for the Democratic party in 1916 which shattered the narrow limits of its 1912 platform and, through the minority report of John R. Commons and Mrs. J. Borden Harriman, a series of proposals that were to become widely infused into the welfare capitalism of the 1920s."[3]

On the other hand, historian Harter argues that the commission had been established to determine the roots of labor problems, but its liberal leanings caused Congress to ignore its findings.[25][26]

Historian Brooks, reviewing Adams book, contends that despite the fact that Frank P. Walsh later became cochairman, with William Howard Taft, of the War Labor Board during World War I that "it is an exaggeration to assume that the Commission was the principal, or even a major, cause of subsequent developments and to attribute to it, as [Adams] does, the development of "a more steeply graduated tax structure, promotion of collective bargaining, minimum wage scales, and the eight hour day... ." There is nothing in [Adams book] which would support the view that the Commission ever had the importance of the La Follette or McClellan Committees."[11]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c McCartin, Joseph Anthony (February 1, 1998). Labor's Great War: The Struggle for Industrial Democracy and the Origins of Modern American Labor. UNC Press. ISBN 0-8078-4679-1.  p. 12.
  2. ^ Bobertz, Bradley C. (February 1999). "The Brandeis Gambit: The Making of America's "First Freedom," 1909-1931". William & Mary Law Review 40.  40 Wm and Mary L. Rev. 557 p. 573
  3. ^ a b c Montgomery, David (April 1967). "Age of Industrial Violence, 1910-15 (Review)". Technology and Culture 8 (2): 234–237. doi:10.2307/3101980. 
  4. ^ a b Kaufman, Bruce E. (December 1, 1992). The Origins & Evolution of Industrial Relations in the United States. Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-87546-192-1.  p. 3
  5. ^ Kaufman p. 8
  6. ^ Kaufman p. 200
  7. ^ McCartin p. 18
  8. ^ McCartin p. 22
  9. ^ a b c d McCartin p. 19
  10. ^ "Guide to the Commission On Industrial Relations Special Agents' Files". Martin P. Catherwood Library. Retrieved May 7, 2006. 
  11. ^ a b c Brooks, George W. (July 1967). "Age of Industrial Violence 1910-1915 (Review)". Industrial and Labor Relations Review. 20 (4): 712–714. 
  12. ^ a b McCartin, p. 26
  13. ^ a b c McCartin, p. 25
  14. ^ a b Rayback, Joseph G.; Adams, Graham (December 1966). "Age of Industrial Violence, 1910-15 Review". The Journal of American History (Organization of American Historians) 53 (3): 630–631. doi:10.2307/1887618. JSTOR 1887618. 
  15. ^ McCartin, p. 26, 28
  16. ^ a b c d e McCartin, p. 13
  17. ^ Commission, p. 269
  18. ^ United States House of Representatives (1916). Commission on Industrial Relations, 1912—1915, Final Report of the Commission on Industrial Relations. Washington: GPO.  p. 25 64th Cong., 1st sess., 1916, S.Doc. 415 (Google Print--Entire document online)
  19. ^ Churchill, Ward (Spring 2004). "From the Pinkertons to the PATRIOT Act: The Trajectory of Political Policing in the United States, 1870 to the Present". The New Centennial Review 4 (1): 1–72. doi:10.1353/ncr.2004.0016. Archived from the original on 2009-07-29.  p.10
  20. ^ Commission, p. 165.
  21. ^ McCartin, p. 34.
  22. ^ Pope, James Gray (January 1997). "Labor's Constitution of Freedom". Yale Law Journal (The Yale Law Journal Company, Inc.) 106 (4): 941. doi:10.2307/797148. JSTOR 797148.  p. 115 106 Yale L.J. 941
  23. ^ Louis P., Galambos (Summer 1967). "Age of Industrial Violence 1910-1915 (Review)". The Business History Review 41 (2): 240–242. doi:10.2307/3112583. 
  24. ^ Adams, Jr., Graham (January 1971). Age of Industrial Violence, 1910-15: The Activities and Findings of the United States Commission on Industrial Relations. Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-02801-6. 
  25. ^ Kaufman, p. 9.
  26. ^ Harter Jr., LaFayette G. (1962). John R. Commons: His Assault on Laissez-Faire. Corvallis: Oregon State University Press. ASIN: B0006AY9HE. 

References[edit]