The most visible organization to develop in this changed atmosphere was the National Civic Federation (hereafter usually called the NCF). Formed in 1900 and composed of leaders from both big corporations and major trade unions, it also included well-known leaders from the worlds of finance, academia, and government. Building on this cross-section of leaders, it was the first national level policy-discussion group formed by the newly emerging corporate community. It therefore has been studied extensively from several different angles (e.g, Cyphers 2002; Green 1956; Jensen 1956; Weinstein 1968). The explicit goal of the NCF was to develop means to harmonize capital-labor relations, and its chosen instrument for this task was the trade union agreement (now called collective bargaining). The hope for the NCF rested on the fact that some of its corporate leaders stated publicly that the right kind of trade unions could play a constructive part in reducing labor strife and in helping American business sell its products overseas.
After pushing for the installation of employee representation plans at several other companies in which he had an ownership interest, Rockefeller used Standard Oil of New Jersey as a launching pad for creating what came to be called the Special Conference Committee, an informal and secret group made up of the presidents and industrial relations vice-presidents for ten of the largest industrial companies in the country and one bank: U.S. Steel, General Motors, General Electric, DuPont, Bethlehem Steel, International Harvester, Standard Oil of New Jersey, U.S. Rubber, Goodyear, Westinghouse, and Irving Trust (AT &T was added in 1925) (e.g., Gordon 1994, pp. 152-155; Scheinberg 1986, pp. 152-158). The main purpose of the committee was to exchange information and ideas on labor relations. Eight of the ten original companies in the Special Conference Committee had adopted employee representation plans by 1925 (Sass 1997, p. 45). However, they did so with varying degrees of enthusiasm and diligence. Hicks served as chairman of the Special Conference Committee from its inception until 1936.
The corporate community's reactions to this new organizing drive broke along the usual moderate/ultraconservative lines. The NAM and Chamber of Commerce insisted that public-employee unions should be restricted to the right to meet and confer, but with no right to collective bargaining. The corporate moderates proceeded more cautiously by using their positions as foundation trustees to suggest background studies. The Carnegie Corporation provided money in 1966 for a joint study by two associations of governmental executives, the National Government Center and the Council of State Governments, which were part of a large urban policy-planning network that had been in place since the 1930s with the help of financial support from Rockefeller philanthropies (Brownlow 1958; Roberts 1994).
Although the national-level leadership of several unions voiced strong support for civil rights legislation, with the hope that African American voters would help to liberalize the Democratic Party in the South and thereby break the Southern Democrats' stranglehold on Congress, unions faced serious internal problems because of the unwillingness of white workers to support the integration of African Americans into craft unions, especially in the construction industry (Frymer 2008, pp. 54-65). In 1959 the NAACP passed a resolution warning labor leaders that it might ask the National Labor Relations Board to decertify the many unions that were discriminating against black workers at the local level in both the North and the South. When black trade unionists brought several resolutions concerning discrimination to the floor of the annual AFL-CIO convention in that same year, the only support for the defeated measures came from the UAW (Quadagno 1994, p. 62; Roof 2011, p. 120).
While the Flint drama was unfolding, the chairman of U.S. Steel decided for several reasons that it was time to make a deal with the unions, starting with the fact that New Deal Democrats controlled Pennsylvania, where the company had many of its mills (Bernstein 1969, pp. 466-473; Gordon 1994, p 229). Furthermore, the CIO's Steel Workers Organizing Committee was in any case winning over many members of the company's employee representation plan. In effect, union organizers were building an industrial union at U.S. Steel, and elsewhere, through the employee representation plans (Jacoby 1997, pp. 158-159; Zieger 1995, pp. 54-59). As a result, the steel company's chairman began secret meetings with Lewis that led to a signed agreement shortly after the United Auto Workers' victory over General Motors. The agreement saved Lewis from expending resources on what could have been a very long and tough battle, kept the many Communist organizers from rising to important positions in what was basically a top-down union, and provided a visible symbolic victory because U.S. Steel was still the largest industrial company in the United States. Change came easily and more completely at General Electric, where Gerard Swope and Owen Young, a director of Industrial Relations Counselors since the 1920s, were still in charge. When the workers voted to unionize, Young and Swope recognized the union immediately and began bargaining. The fact that the union was the largest of the Communist-dominated unions in the CIO made the bargaining all the more notable, but the fact that the leaders were Communists made no difference in terms of the company's willingness to deal with the union. As a result of these and other victories, the percentage of the nonagricultural workforce in unions rose from 6.9% in 1933 to 19.2% in 1939 (e.g., Cohen 2009, p. 304).
The memorandum made several other suggestions that were standard items in the employers' argument by then. For example, coercion by labor organizers as well as coercion by employers should be banned and efforts should be made to solve problems through cooperative means. But the sticking point in the memorandum at the dinner discussion concerned a section of the draft legislation that banned employee representation plans that had been founded and financed by companies. Teagle and Kirstein argued that the issue was domination, not origins, but Wagner held firm, at least for the time being:
Pierre du Pont made his first public dissent as a member of the National Labor Board on March 1, 1934, when the majority on the board ruled that the union or employee representation plan chosen by a majority of the employees voting in a representation election had to be recognized as the sole bargaining agent for all the employees in the plant, factory, or office. This decision, if enforced, would have cut the ground from under one of the major tactics of anti-union employers, who insisted, based on a doctrine called "proportional representation," that they had the right and duty to bargain with their company unions and individual employees as well as trade unions. Although the industrialists' claim was based on lofty arguments about the rights of numerical minorities and individuals, it was believed by most observers at the time to be a divide-and-conquer strategy that would allow them to avoid serious negotiations with unions. Corporate lawyer Lloyd K. Garrison, who chaired the reconstituted labor board for several months in the summer and fall of 1934, subsequently said that "I have never yet seen a case in which these arguments were advanced by a minority group generally concerned with negotiating a collective agreement applying to all" (Bernstein 1950, p. 103n, italics in the original).
It’s not exactly breaking news that most journalists lean left. I used to do that myself. I grew up at The New York Times, so I’m familiar with the species. For most of the media, bias grew out of the social revolution of the 1960s and ’70s. Fueled by the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements, the media jumped on the anti-authority bandwagon writ large. The deal was sealed with Watergate, when journalism was viewed as more trusted than government—and far more exciting and glamorous. Think Robert Redford in All the President’s Men. Ever since, young people became journalists because they wanted to be the next Woodward and Bernstein, find a Deep Throat, and bring down a president. Of course, most of them only wanted to bring down a Republican president. That’s because liberalism is baked into the journalism cake.
The AFL successfully proposed an important, and controversial, amendment to the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 once it reached Congress. It insisted that language from the pro-labor Norris-LaGuardia Act of 1932 be added to the simple declaration of the right to collective bargaining in section 7(a). The additional clause stated that employees "shall be free from the interference, restraint, or coercion of employers of labor or their agents..." (Bernstein 1969, p. 31). Moreover, the AFL wanted a seemingly small change in a clause in the Norris-LaGuardia Act stating that "no employee and no one seeking employment shall be required as a condition of employment to join any organization or to refrain from joining a labor organization of his own choosing." In a phrase aimed directly at the Rockefeller industrial relations network, the AFL demanded that the word "organization" be replaced by "company union," which raised the corporate moderates' hackles immediately (Bernstein 1969, p. 31). But the AFL's amendments made it into the bill passed by the House despite the NAM's desire to eliminate section 7(a) entirely. However, at this moment NAM did not have the support of its temporarily more moderate ally, the Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber remained neutral because it had made a private agreement with the AFL that it would accept the collective bargaining provision in exchange for labor's support for the price-setting provisions (Bernstein 1950, p. 35).
There are slightly conflicting claims on the origins of section 7(a). The specific language seems to have been suggested by W. Jett Lauck, the only labor-oriented member of the Wagner group that had primarily responsibility for drafting the administration's legislative proposal. An economist who was an advisor to John L. Lewis of the United Mine Workers, Lauck had served as the secretary for the National War Labor Board during World War I, so he was familiar with the tradition of accepting government involvement in collective bargaining in times of social upheaval (Vittoz 1987, p. 87). There is also some evidence that at least a handful of business executives and economists from the policy-planning network supported the idea, apparently because they believed unions could play a positive role in stabilizing such highly competitive and wage-cutting industries as coal mining and garment making (e.g., Gordon 1994 Chapter 3; Vittoz 1987, Chapters 2 and 3). However, as subsequent resistance to union involvement in the code authorities demonstrates, most of the corporate leaders who at first seemed willing to accept some degree of union involvement became highly opposed to unions. It is also clear that the most important labor leaders of the 1930s, Sidney Hillman of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, John L. Lewis of the United Mine Workers, and William Green, president of the American Federation of Labor, spoke directly with several of the people involved in drafting the bill.