Labor History Seminar: Chad Pearson, University of Alabama

Labor History Seminar
Thursday, January 15, 2009

3:00 pm to 5:00 pm

Not Right: Progressive Era Liberals and Open Shoppery
Chad Pearson, University of Alabama in Huntsville
Commentators: Shelton Stromquist, University of Iowa, and Rosemary Feuer, Northern Illinois University

This paper explores the different ways in which several prominent Progressive Era liberals, including, but not limited to, Ray Stannard Baker, Louis D. Brandeis, John Dewey, Washington Gladden, Tom L. Johnson, and Theodore Roosevelt, embraced open-shoppery, the central managerial theory that justified strikebreaking, union-busting, and blacklisting.  I call these figures soft-core open-shoppers, and describe the ways in which they attempted to make the open-shop principle acceptable to a reform-minded public.  Most stood to the left of those active in union-busting associations, and many claimed to admire labor unions.  But they also championed the rights of employers and strikebreakers, which open-shoppers called “free” workers.  By exploring the triangulating roles played by several liberal individuals at a time of much labor unrest, this paper illustrates the elasticity of the open-shop theory and deepens our understanding of the history of anti-union ideas and actions.