Academic journal article Historical Journal of Massachusetts

Do Unto Others: The Golden Rule Fund and Organized Labor in Worcester, Massachusetts, 1955-1965

Academic journal article Historical Journal of Massachusetts

Do Unto Others: The Golden Rule Fund and Organized Labor in Worcester, Massachusetts, 1955-1965

Article excerpt

The effectiveness of organized labor in achieving significant improvements in workers' wages during the post-World War II, collective bargaining era, is widely recognized. The newfound "affluence" of workers, however, meant that new and different pressures would be brought to bear, both on working people and on their organizations.

While the militant hostility of employers who chose to fight out battles in the street was largely in the past, employer hostility to unions and to workers lived on in more subtle forms. This article is intended to demonstrate the more civilized hostility of management to labor in the collective bargaining era in one New England city from the mid-1950s through the mid-'60s. In the more subtle atmosphere of industrial relations of this period, management-labor hostility did not always manifest itself solely at the bargaining table or in the workplace. The issue of control, however, remained crucial as elites attempted, in a more hidden, and thus insidious, way, to both retain control of communities outside the workplace as well as to tap into workers' relative prosperity by imposing new expectations that workers themselves would pay for community services previously funded by private and tightly controlled local charities or by local governments where patterns of control were long entrenched.1

While employers sought to shift the costs of private charities to working men and women, they attempted simultaneously to retain control of those charities in the hands of an exclusive small group who traditionally controlled private boards. The differences that arose between workers and owners were sometimes less centered around such direct workplace issues as conditions of labor, wages, and hours, than they were over issues of community influence and participation in broad-based community decision-making. Local business leaders would find that national trends mandated union recognition and gave unions a voice in the workplace. National firms with local offices would set the tone for management-labor relationships in spite of what might have been the harsher preferences of local ownership. Workers' influence in community decision-making and the granting to workers' organizations of status and community prestige was quite a different matter, though. Elites in Worcester long accustomed to anti-union cooperation and resistance, shifted their battles to the wider community in the 1950s. The efforts of local industrial leaders focuses on denying status and participation in broad-based community decision-making to organized labor, particularly in light of what local elites persisted in seeing as the CIO-heritage of industrial disruption.2

Worcester had a long tradition of anti-union cooperation among major employers. From even before the concerted local organizing effort of the AFL in the late 1880s, locally based owners had effectively opposed organizing in Worcester's major shops. Peter J. McGuire recognized this in his famous and oft-quoted reference to Worcester as "one of the scab-holes of the state."3 The Worcester County Employers' Association, the local office of the National Metal Trades Association, and the members of exclusive clubs such as the Worcester Club, all worked together to conduct an anti-union campaign, remarkable for both its longevity and its success. Local ownership was not used to working cooperatively with labor. Thus, with the spread and increasing acceptance of unionization nationally, spearheaded locally by the steelworkers' union, Worcester elites were faced with shaping a new and unfamiliar working relationship with organized labor. Not only would labor exert influence in the workplace, where there would be a national model to which local employers could turn for reassurance, but labor would seek wider influence in the community at large, previously dominated by a tightly controlled exclusive group. Here there was less basis for guidance for local owners. When they reacted, they did so in ways which reflected their inherent insecurities. …

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