Shopfloor Matters: Labor-Management Relations in Twentieth-Century American Manufacturing

By David Fairris | Go to book overview

2

THE AMOSKEAG PLAN OF REPRESENTATION

The textile mills of the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company 1 date back to the 1830s, when a group of Boston entrepreneurs purchased the water power for the Merrimack River and a 15,000-acre plot of land across the Amoskeag Falls with the intent of building an industrial city centered around textile manufacturing. The company mills, located in the town of Manchester, New Hampshire, closed in 1936 after struggling for most of the preceding forty years to be competitive with the growing southern textile producers, who possessed cheaper labor, newer technology, and a closer proximity to raw materials. The decline in the company’s fortunes became especially precipitous following the depression of the early 1920s and the pivotal strike of 1922. The Amoskeag mills failed to earn a profit in four of the seven remaining years of the decade, and the loss in 1924 alone exceeded the combined profit of the three profitable years (Creamer and Coulter 1971:204).

The events leading up to the emergence of the Amoskeag company union in 1923 conform quite closely to those of many large manufacturing firms during this period. The context within which the Amoskeag company union operated during the 1920s, however, was atypical in at least one very important respect. Because of the company’s dire financial condition, throughout the decade workers faced declining real wages, longer hours, and continuous attempts by management to speed up production. The atmosphere in which labor and management cooperated to enhance productivity and shopfloor safety through the employee representation plan was thus filled with great tension and occasional conflict. For this reason, the Amoskeag company union provides an interesting case study. To the extent that evidence can be marshaled suggesting that, despite such tension-filled and conflict-ridden conditions, the Amoskeag company union constituted a mutually advantageous institutional adjustment in shopfloor governance, the case is strengthened for the positive impact of company unions more broadly.

The nature of workers’ shopfloor discontents in the early-twentiethcentury textile mills of the Amoskeag varied across departments. Preparatory efforts such as carding and spinning were typically very dirty jobs. The weaving rooms were generally kept clean, but they were hot and

-47-

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Shopfloor Matters: Labor-Management Relations in Twentieth-Century American Manufacturing
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - From Exit to Voice in Shopfloor Governance 17
  • 2 - The Amoskeag Plan of Representation 47
  • 3 - The Rise of an Empowered Shopfloor Voice 57
  • 4 - Labor-Management Disputes in Meat Packing, 1936-41 89
  • 5 - Institutionalization and Decline in Workers’ Shopfloor Power 99
  • 6 - Postwar Collective-Bargaining Agreements 139
  • 7 - Contemporary Experiments with New Systems of Shopfloor Governance 146
  • 8 - A Visit to Saturn 168
  • 9 - The Future of Us Shopfloor Governance 175
  • Appendix Tables 191
  • Data Appendix 198
  • Notes 204
  • Bibliography 219
  • Index 230
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