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  • Reform or Repression: Organizing America’s Anti-union Movement by Chad Pearson
  • Anthony R. DeStefanis
Reform or Repression: Organizing America’s Anti-union Movement Chad Pearson Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016 303 pp., $55.00 (cloth); $55.00 (e-book)

This book is about the first open-shop movement in the United States, which, according to the author, Chad Pearson, emerged at the turn of the twentieth century and ended when the United States entered World War I. The book mostly focuses on the foundry industry. Pearson seeks to show how the industry’s open-shop advocates organized themselves as a class and attempted to attach their cause to the larger Progressive movement. The answer to the labor question for open-shop backers was “the widespread creation of work places full with loyal, industrious, and law abiding employees who sincerely respected America’s industrial and political institutions” (2). Workers had to “embrace individualism over collectivism … resist the temptation to join anarchist or socialist organizations or the more numerous ‘labor trusts’—the term employers and their allies used to describe what they considered the many powerful, intemperate, and subversive unions that demanded recognition and collective bargaining rights” (2).

Pearson divides this study into two sections. The two chapters in part 1 examine the open-shop movement nationally. Part 2 is four case studies that consider the open-shop and antiunion movement in Cleveland, Ohio; Buffalo, New York; Worcester, Massachusetts; and the South as a whole.

In part 1, Pearson explores how employers began to organize themselves as a class by forming trade associations, citizens’ alliances, and organizations like the Citizens Industrial Association of America (CIAA). He locates the origins of the movement in the American Founders’ Association, which became the National Founders’ Association (NFA) in 1897 as the concerns of foundry owners became focused on how to deal with an increasingly restless working class. Pearson points out that foundry owners spoke explicitly about organizing themselves to protect their interests, but they were not necessarily antiunion. Instead, the NFA condemned social Darwinism, criticized industrialists who paid wages that forced families to send their children to work, and recruited union leaders as well as Catholic and Jewish foundry owners. NFA members were also willing to negotiate with “responsible” union leaders as long as they did not insist on the closed shop. Because they acted in these ways, Pearson contends, NFA members saw themselves as part of the larger Progressive reform movement.

That foundry work was largely skilled labor helped create a moderate NFA, but its moderation did not last for long. Both the NFA and the National Metal Trades Association, a new organization of foundry owners established in 1902, became sources for strategy on how to break strikes. As the open-shop movement spread to other trade-specific employer associations and to the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), it increasingly “provided their likeminded colleagues with practical resources, emotional reassurance, and strategic guidance as they charted a new course” (53). As they did so, [End Page 106] employers insisted “that they chose to fight unions not because they wanted to limit their employees’ rights while increasing profits, but rather because they felt a moral obligation to defend what they defined as the labor movement’s most vulnerable targets: innocent children, widows, small tradesmen, modest-sized business owners, and above all, ‘free’ workers” (52–53).

Pearson is skeptical about this claim, but he also shows how employer organizations successfully recruited nonemployers to the open-shop movement. Along the way, we meet a host of familiar figures from the Progressive Era who expressed support for the open shop. Theodore Roosevelt, Louis Brandeis, Booker T. Washington, Ray Stan-nard Baker, George Creel, and Woodrow Wilson all approved of the open shop at one time or another, and Pearson makes the case that such support helped legitimize it as a necessary reform.

The subsequent chapters on Cleveland, Buffalo, Worcester, and the South focus on different aspects of the open-shop and antiunion movement in the foundry industry during the first years of the twentieth century. In chapter 3, Pearson organized his discussion of the open-shop movement around John A. Penton and Jay P. Dawley...


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pp. 106-108
Launched on MUSE
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