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

8
WORLD WAR AND CLASS POLITICS
Solidarism and Intersectoral Control in the United States

“In summer 1918, 36-year-old Felix Frankfurter embarked on a project whose scope was nothing short of stupendous, the word chosen by a contemporary observer and later by Frankfurter's biographer. An assistant to President Woodrow Wilson's secretary of labor, he assumed the chairmanship of the new War Labor Policies Board (WLPB) to deal with problems associated with America's growing involvement in the war in Europe. He then asked his mentor and wealthy patron Louis Brandeis to persuade President Wilson of his plan's necessity and to take a leave of absence from the Supreme Court to lead the effort, should the president desire it. But Wilson preferred to keep Brandeis where he was and instead chose Frankfurter himself. 1

What the future New Dealer and Supreme Court justice set out to accomplish was a nationwide standardization of wages within and across industries in the vast number of manufacturing companies now producing for the war effort. Order had to be imposed on an anarchic wartime labor market producing highly irregular wage increases. In some cases, according to one analysis, they were “wildly incredible ones”. 2 Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the assistant secretary of the Navy, had already begun imposing wage controls in the same spirit, through the Navy's Emergency Fleet Corporation and the Shipbuilding Labor Adjustment Board (SLAB), as were other top military procurement officials within their respective sectors. A prodigious administrative reformer bent on better economies and more speed in the procurement process, Roosevelt asserted control over the numerous contractors building ships for the war effort. An acute problem he experienced in the context of wartime labor scarcity was “contractors who paid more than the standard rates in order to attract the employees of other shipbuilding plants. ” By summer 1918, when Frankfurter was ready to proceed, it was already “settled policy” in shipbuilding—a solidaristic one—to prevent payment of higher than standard rates to any considerable portion of men in any particular craft. Now Roosevelt, also 36 years old, fully supported Frankfurter's more comprehensive project. 3

-167-

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