Capitalists against Markets: The Making of Labor Markets and Welfare States in the United States and Sweden

By Peter A. Swenson | Go to book overview

7
CARTELISM AND MARKET CONTROL
The United States in Comparison

To almost all big employers in twentieth-century America, the Swedish system of industrial relations would have seemed a strange and oppressive way to manage their affairs, be it with workers or with one another. It certainly appeared that way to Ivan Willis, an industrial relations executive from Standard Oil of New Jersey, in 1939. From what he knew, the Swedish system

closes the door to any employer doing more for his employees than his competitors, even though his company is in a favorable position and willing and anxious to pass some of the benefits on to its workers. Even if the unions did not object, his fellow members in the employers' federation would block his setting a precedent that the union might use to club the rest of the industry into line.

On this, Willis had the complete agreement of Homer Sayre, commissioner of the strikebreaking, union-busting National Metal Trades Association (NMTA). As far as Sayre was concerned, the problem for his association, unlike the Swedish Engineering Employers' association, was getting employers to improve their standards, not hold them back. 1

A national debate on industry-wide bargaining occasioned this critique. The year before, a group commissioned by President Franklin Roosevelt reported their findings from visits to Sweden and Britain about centralized bargaining practices across the Atlantic. Front-page material in the New York Times, the report on Sweden found nothing to fault in the country's system of multi-employer bargaining. 2 The report did not, however, go deeply into the reasons for its success and why big business in Sweden was warming up to social democracy. The warming trend was most evident in the engineering sector, the NMTA's territory, because of the control now being exercised over the building and construction trades. By 1941, the Social Democratic leadership

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