These and other decisions elicited immediate protests from the corporate community, but the NLRB majority dismissed these outcries as the usual overstatements by ultraconservatives. They did so based on the false assumption, widely shared at the time in liberal and academic circles, that the biggest and most reasonable corporations had come to accept collective bargaining as a stabilizing influence, especially when they could raise prices after a contract settlement to levels that more than compensated for the higher wages and benefits they had to pay. But these decisions were nothing to the corporate community compared to National Labor Relations Board rulings in 1963 and 1964 that took the conflict to a new level, which represented a distinctly greater threat to the corporate community. Although the issues were barely worthy of media attention in the context of the rising civil rights movement, they provided new openings for organized labor to take part in management decisions, including such volatile issues as the removal of some in-plant functions to other companies ("outsourcing"), the closure of whole factories, and the movement of factories to new locations. In the eyes of all members of the corporate community, the labor board's decisions on these issues were a challenge to their "right to manage," a phrase that had been invoked since the 1940s to indicate that a sacrosanct line had been crossed (Harris 1982).
The Rockefeller fortune was based primarily in five of the oil companies created in 1911 out of the original Standard Oil, after it was broken up by antitrust action. In the 1920s and 1930s, the Rockefellers held the largest blocks of stock in these companies and had great influence on their management. Four of the five companies were in the top 11 corporations in terms of their assets in 1933. Standard Oil of New Jersey (renamed Exxon in the early 1970s) was the second-largest corporation, and Standard Oil of New York (renamed Mobil at one point and then merged with Exxon in 1999 to create Exxon Mobil), was the fourth-largest. Then there was Standard Oil of Indiana at No. 6, and Standard Oil of California at No. 11 (Burch 1981, p. 14). Standard Oil of New Jersey was by far the most important and politically involved of these companies. Rockefeller had his offices in its headquarters building and was close to the senior management throughout the 1920s and 1930s, especially the president during these years, Walter C. Teagle. A grandson of one of John D. Rockefeller, Sr.'s, original partners, Teagle worked as an executive for various Standard Oil companies for 15 years before heading Standard Oil of New Jersey from late 1917 until his retirement in 1937. By the 1930s he was a director of White Motors in Cleveland and Coca Cola in Atlanta due to personal friendships with their CEOs. He served on the Petroleum War Service Board in World War I and chaired a Share-the-Work campaign for Hoover in 1932, making dozens of speeches across the country (Wall and Gibb 1974, Chapter 15). If the close and mutually respectful relationship between Teagle and Rockefeller can be kept in mind, and if Teagle's independent judgment is appreciated, then the idea of "Rockefeller" power in labor relations can be considered within a more open mind, especially after other dramatis personae are added to the picture.
Business and the Economy in the 1940s (you might have to enter the
During the 1920s, unions lost strike after strike as employer opposition to unions reversed many of the wartime advances by organized labor. Due in good part to a union-breaking campaign led by the NAM, union strength dropped from about 20% of the nonagricultural labor force in 1920 to less than 10% at the beginning of the New Deal. Over the course of these lean years for organized labor, union membership declined from five million in 1919 to just under three million in 1933 (Bernstein 1960, p. 84). Still, total union membership never fell below 1917 levels, no major union organizations disappeared, and there were some gains for the building trades, railroad brotherhoods, and the Teamsters (Nelson 1997,pp. 98-99). But the United Mine Workers, which later took the lead in organizing during the 1930s, fell from 500,000 in 1919 to under 80,000 in the early 1930s. The garment unions were also devastated -- the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, another spearhead union in the 1930s, fell from 180,000 in 1920 to 60,000 in 1933 (with only 7,000 of those members paying dues) and the International Ladies' Garment Workers Union fell from 120,000 in 1920 to around 40,000 in 1933. The biggest unions were now in construction, transportation, entertainment, and printing, all of which had high replacement costs in the face of union demands (Zieger and Gall 2002, pp. 69-70). There were virtually no union members in mass production industries.