Cyrus S. Ching: Pioneer in Industrial Peacemaking; as a Manager, and Later as a Government Executive, Ching Pointed the Way to a Cooperative System of Labor Relations by Showing That Differences Are Much More Easily Resolved When Reason, Rather Than Rancor, Prevails

Article excerpt

Cyrus S. Ching: pioneer in industrial peacemaking

Through much of America's rise to greatness as an industrial power, mistrust and misunderstanding have been dominant characteristics of relations between employers and organized labor. Most managements viewed attempts by unions to represent their workers as mischievous intrusions, destructive of the interests of company and employee alike. That attitude found expression in tactics so hostile to unionization that many of the country's foremost corporations built up private armies of labor spies and strongarm men to keep labor at bay.

Unions responded with counterweapons that were violent and often illegal--a response made more virulent by the widespread belief within labor that the agents of law enforcement were vassals of the all-powerful captains of industry. Strikes were long, bitter, and often bloody. The costs were high in lost production, shoddy workmanship, and inefficiency. They frequently were even higher in the damage inflicted on the public by a prolonged cutoff of vital services or by the weakening of companies whose financial health was essential to the jobs of their emloyees and the well-being of whole communities.

In the 1930's and 1940's, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal opened the way for a union assault on the mass production industries, a tiny group of men of good will became pioneers in the development of techniques to reduce the conflict between management and labor by substituting reasonableness for tests of strength. A position of towering eminence in this select circle was occupied by Cyrus S. Ching, a corporate executive who demonstrated such breadth of vision and freedom from parochial identifications that unionists were almost always at least as enthusiastic as their opposite numbers in management when Ching agreed to help find mutually advantageous solutions to seemingly intractable disputes.

The lofty stature he speedily acquired as a mediator transcended the fact that his height of 6 feet 7 inches would have made him an impressive figure in any labor-management conference room. Early in his career, Ching capsulized his philosophy of dispute resolution in words that would remain as guideposts for future practitioners of the mediator's trade. "The only way you can get things settled," he was wont to say, "is to find a way where each side can save face. If one side or the other in a labor dispute tries to push the other to the wall, it's going to have disastrous effects on the situation under consideration as well as for future relations."

Up through the ranks

Ching was born May 21, 1876, on his father's farm in Prince Edward Island, Canada. The only son in a family with seven daughters, he came of Welsh stock (Chynge was the original spelling of the family name), was educated in a one-room schoolhouse, and early on developed a voracious appetite for reading, mostly history and the classics. At the age of 16, he accompanied a favorite uncle to the county seat, where he sat in on a court trial and was instantly consumed with an overwhelming urge to become a lawyer.

On his return to the farm, young Ching went out to pick potatoes with his father. he took that occasion to inform his dad that never again would he pick potatoes. The elder Ching had no money to send his son to college, but the uncle, who was better off, volunteered to foot the bill. Within a week, Cyrus was in Charlottestown, the capital of Prince Edward Island, and enrolled in Prince of Wales College, a cross between a prep school and an institution of higher education.

He studied there for 2 years before transferring to a business college, where he spent a year acquiring skills in stenography, shorthand, and bookkeeping. In 1895, he abandoned the Gulf of St. Lawrence for a 4-year stay in Alberta, where he worked for a grain elevator company visiting farmers and making contracts for delivery of their grain to the company's elevators. …