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"No Change in Existing Standards"? Production, Employee Representation, and Government Policy in the United States, 1917-1919

Jeffrey Haydu
Journal of Social History
Vol. 25, No. 1 (Autumn, 1991), pp. 45-64
Published by: Oxford University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3788503
Page Count: 20
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"No Change in Existing Standards"? Production, Employee Representation, and Government Policy in the United States, 1917-1919
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Abstract

During WWI the United States government sought to increase armaments production and minimize labor unrest. These proved to be contentious goals. Wartime dilution antagonized skilled workers; efforts to enhance union control over rebellious employees met resistance from many employers and stimulated "unofficial" organization and strikes among the rank and file. This paper examines three key war sectors--railroad shops, munitions, and shipbuilding--to see how the federal government dealt with these dilemmas. Federal policies to manage the problems of dilution and employee representation varied sharply from one war industry to another. Intervention in production practices benefited labor in some industries and employers in others. Some cases found the government bolstering union authority in order to curb rank-and-file unrest; elsewhere federal policy undermined union control. Prior differences in production practices, union power, and industrial relations account for these variations: by creating distinct constraints and opportunities for government officials, these differences led to contrasting patterns of wartime labor administration. This account of government intervention is compared to common sociological theories of the state and to historical interpretations of wartime labor policy.

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