Philip Coben

Psychology – See?

Pundits Ponder Problem of Love’s Labor Lost

(20 February 1950)

From Labor Action, Vol. 14 No. 8, 20 February 1950, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

We don’t pretend that the stuff we’re going to quote represents exactly the heaviest kind of thinking now going on in employer circles on labor-management relations. But what it lacks in quality, it makes up in quantity. There’s lots of it being poured on.

The general idea animating both the heavy-type and light-type thinkers on the subject is to convince labor that organizing to fight against exploitation in industry is some kind of ignorant error – like crossing the street to avoid passing under a ladder. (Which, by the way, is not always an act of superstition, particularly when there’s a pail of paint slopping around on top of the ladder.)

The exhibits in this column will be of the light variety.

Take Walter Granville, design decorator of the Container Corporation of America. He’s got his eye on that pail of paint too:

“If every wall in an office or factory were painted in cheerful warm color combinations, people would work together better and be happier,” he has announced. Productions would be increased, and plants would have as little labor trouble as the Container Corporation of America itself, which has 40 different color combinations used in its offices, all designed by Walter Granville’s department.

He says the employees don’t get into the habit of “slipping out for a cup of coffee” out of sheer boredom (which, as everybody knows, has been a real problem on the Chrysler assembly line ...). They just love to relax by counting the 40 different combinations.

The “grizzled old veteran employee” (who, I suspect, is the same commentator that figures in other stories of the type) is reported to have remarked: “Sure, it’s a matter of color. Just show us some more green stuff and we won’t strike.”

It’s Psychology – See?

In fact, there’s virtually a campaign on to convince workers that they go on strike simply because they’re bored. That’s the contribution also of Vice-President Fred Smith of the William Valve Company of Cincinnati, giving the lowdown to the Louisville Area Association of Management.

“If you look closely,” said Smith, squinting a little himself, “you will see that plants using mass production techniques have the most labor trouble.” Why? Simple. Their jobs don’t keep their minds occupied. Boredom. “And as mass production spreads, boredom will spread too.”

“Hey, Joe, I’m gettin’ restless. Howzabout knocking off and takin’ in a movie?”

“Nah, kid stuff, no kick in it. Let’s go on strike – it’s such FUN!”

Of course, no one’s going to pretend that the above-mentioned two pundits have solved the whole problem. Can anybody be perfect? Some industries present special difficulties. Coal, for instance. How could you keep even one color combination, let alone 40, on the walls of the coal seams in the diggings?

So the Chamber of Commerce of Huntington, West Virginia, paid no attention to hues (except for the usual hue-and-cry about the “reds”). The local C. of C. orator instead told a state businessmen’s forum that the ticket was “to smoke John L. Lewis out with advertising, as the A&P did.” The meeting agreed to launch an anti-union ad campaign in the West Virginia press, cost in the thousands. We suggest the testimonial technique:

My uncle offered me a $5,000 a year job as a bank vice-president,’’ says Walter S. Ammoniak, 53-year-old miner, “but I told him: No, I’d rather be useful, here in West Virginia, digging the coal that keeps the American system of free enterprise running. It’s a PRIVILEGE to be a coal-digger!”

Love That Foreman!

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, on the other hand, has a less expensive scheme. It’s all explained in a booklet available to members for only 25 cents (coin or stamps), entitled How to Strengthen Employee Loyalty With Letters. The booklet describes in clear, simple language what kind of letters to send, what their tone should be, and on what occasions to send them.

“Letters from management to employees work miracles,” says the Chamber. That this is true is well known to experts in labor-management relations, who no doubt could cite numerous examples. The only one I know of personally was a letter which miraculously stopped a bitter 10-week strike; it read in part: “We beg to inform you that we hereby accept the union’s request for an eight-cent increase in wages ...”

Then there’s the “Freudian psycho-dynamic approach,” used by Dr. Robert N. McMurry, who charges corporations $125 an hour for advice on their labor troubles. According to Time magazine for January 16, the doctor tells his suck – pardon, clients – where unions come from: “Management has failed to be the kindly protective father, so the union has become the caressing mother who gets things from that stinker of a father.”

When you get down to fundamentals on why men join unions, it turns out “that the men’s real, unconscious motive was a craving to improve the emotional situation surrounding their jobs.”

The same magazine, the following week, quoted another authority, a Mr. Imberman, to another effect. It seems that the real trouble is that the labor leaders get mad because they’re high-hatted by the snooty set. He cites the case of a labor leader whose daughter was frozen out of a sorority because of her father’s unrespectable occupation. Diagnosis by Imberman: “The impotence of the father to deal with such a situation is not unrelated to the fury with which he pursues his strike ends.” Time writes:

“The businessman, says Imberman, should ask the labor leader over for a Saturday night’s bridge game, nominate him for the local country club, invite him to work in the Red Cross and Community Chest drives. The employer’s wife can help by shepherding the union man’s wife into upper-crust women’s clubs. But Imberman leaves one big question unanswered: Will a union leader still have the loyalty of his unionists when they see him drinking cocktails with the boss?”

“To the Picket Line, James!”

That’s one trouble also with the savants of the Harvard Business Review who had the same idea: “If an employer wants to avoid labor trouble, he should invite the president of the local union to join his luncheon club. If he really hankers for industrial peace, he should get the union leader’s daughter enrolled in a fashionable dancing school.”

The sad fact about this last line of advice is that so often it really works. No, it isn’t bribery – not the down-to-earth kind, anyway. It doesn’t even have to be the result of a deliberate policy followed by the “business community” after reading the Harvard Business Review.

Too many labor leaders have long since risen out of their own class, what with $10,000 a year salaries, butlers, and other appurtenances and emoluments of the upper middle class, whether or not their daughters make that sorority or pal around with Miss Moneybags socially. The capitalist atmosphere is an all-penetrating miasma, and as soon as a tabor leader stops thinking and living like a worker on one of his assembly belts, he can easily become simply another businessman (dealing in the commodity labor power) rather than a labor leader.

It’s a sensible bit of advice for businessmen, that one about playing footsie with the labor leader instead of blackballing his daughters – quite sensible from capital’s point of view, in many cases. The worker’s point of view is going to be different, however, since Mr. Moneybags isn’t going to invite the whole darned shop into his luncheon club.

A few men can rise out of their class and become traitors and renegades to their own working people; the mass are going to remain where they are. They can rise when the whole class rises together, to real social power. That’s why democratic rank-and-file control is so important in a union even if you do trust your leaders now. That’s why Gene Debs said: “I want to rise with my class, not out of it.”

But Debs was a real socialist, never sold his soul for $10,000 a year; and wanted to be known as a working-class leader, not a “labor statesman.”

Last updated on 9 March 2023