Representation and Rebellion: The Rockefeller Plan at the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, 1914–1942

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Representation and Rebellion: The Rockefeller Plan at the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, 1914–1942
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Representation and Rebellion: The Rockefeller Plan at the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, 1914–1942
Foster, Mark S.
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Denver, CO
Center for Colorado and the West
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Auraria Library
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Auraria Library
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.


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Representation and Rebellion: The Rockefeller Plan at the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, 1914 | Center for Colorado & the West at Auraria Library[12/8/2015 12:47:49 PM] Home Representation and Rebellion: The Rockefeller Plan at the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, 1914Representation and Rebellion: The Rockefeller Plan at the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, 1914Submitted by jainlayconley on 5-6-2010 04:46 PMAuthor: Jonathan H. Rees Publishing: Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado, 2010. vii + 325 pages. Black and white photos, endnotes, bibliography, appendices, index. 6-1/2 x 9. $34.95 hardcover. Reviewer: Mark S. Foster Reviewer Affiliation: Professor Emeritus, University of Colorado Denver At the end of the twentieth century, it appeared that the history of mining in Colorado and relations between management and labor had been thoroughly explored. However, in recent years, several authors have revisited the topic and have provided important new perspectives. The Rockefeller familys ownership and management of Colorado Fuel and Iron in southern Colorado has attracted considerable attention. Thomas G. Andrewss prize-winning book, Killing for Coal (2008), and F. Darrell Munsells From Redstone to Ludlow (2009) have provided significant reinterpretations of highly contentious management-labor confrontations in heavy industry in the early twentieth century. Now, in Representation and Rebellion Jonathan H. Rees offers yet another nuanced analysis of relations between a highly visible corporation and its workers, covering the first half of the twentieth century. To his credit, Rees sets out his objectives and major arguments in a brief, clearly written preface. Following the Ludlow Massacre of 1914, John D. Rockefeller Jr., attempting to soothe raw nerves among workers and begin to rehabilitate the negative corporate image and damage to his familys reputation, visited the site. He and his advisors subsequently introduced an employee representation plan (ERP), which was dubbed simply the Rockefeller Plan. Introduced during the so-called Progressive era, the plans authors aimed to circumvent future conflicts by setting up committees of workers and management representatives to resolve potential areas of disagreement in an atmosphere of free and democratic exchange of ideas. Rees writes: The Rockefeller plan does not fit the stereotype of an employer-dominated company union. While it appears that workers sometimes told management what they knew the employer wanted to hear, employees also used the plan in countless instances to complain vociferously about the terms and conditions of their employment. These workers could have been fired for speaking their minds. The fact that they did so anyway and were not discharged suggests that some CF&I workers tried to make industrial democracy work for them. In fact, industrial democracy worked very well for some employees at CF&I, albeit often at the expense of other employees.(xv) He concludes: In short, the story of the Rockefeller Plan does not fit attacks from the left that denounce such arrangements, nor EXPLORE BY MEDIABook Reviews Photographs Video Biographies New Publications Resource Guides County Newspaper HistoriesEXPLORE BY TOPICLand & Natural Resources Government & Law Agriculture Mining Commerce & Industry Transportation People & Places Communication Healthcare & Medicine Education & Libraries Cultural Communities Recreation & Entertainment Tourism ReligionEXPLORE BY CULTUREHispanic Native AmericanThe Ute people have lived in Colorado longer than anyone else.


Representation and Rebellion: The Rockefeller Plan at the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, 1914 | Center for Colorado & the West at Auraria Library[12/8/2015 12:47:49 PM] does it fit the kind of praise Rockefellers comparatively benevolent action in setting up this organization often elicits from the right.... I see the plan not as a successful attempt to thwart unionization but as an unsuccessful attempt to solve what was known in that era as the labor questionnamely, how to get workers to accept the difficult circumstances created by industrialization without striking or otherwise disrupting the eras usually burgeoning economy. (xvi) Eventually, the ERP died in the early 1940s, a victim of New Deal legislation that profoundly altered the landscape for industrial labor relations. CF&I declared bankruptcy in 1993 and simply abandoned a mountain of company records in their former office space. Rees, a professor at Colorado State UniversityPueblo with an extensive background in labor history, could not resist the temptation to begin plowing through 21,000 linear feet of previously unexplored primary sources in 2000. The end product of his research is a work that fills an important gap in regional and national labor history. Entities sometimes inaccurately identified as company unions have received relatively little attention from historians. It is this lacunae that makes Reess contribution worthwhile. One of his most compelling points is his contention that although the ERP provided tangible benefits for many relatively skilled, literate workers who were thoroughly Americanized, substantial numbers of workers failed to take advantage of the services outside of the workplace that the plan offered. Rockefellers managers, however sincere and well-intentioned they may have been, failed to understand that the vast majority of workers at CF&I were innately suspicious of any program that they did not control themselves. Workers wanted independent representation, not something that reminded them of the condescending paternalism in early Lowell or George Pullmans more recent ideal, tightly controlled worker community on the outskirts of Chicago. Reess book succeeds in most respects. He uses his evidence effectively and numerous charts and tables provide fascinating evidence concerning who ran the ERP and, in general, who benefited the most from its policies. There are several good sketches of primary actors in the drama, including John Rockefeller Jr., his mentor William Lyon Mackenzie King (former Canadian minister of labor and future prime minister of that country), company president Jesse Wellborn, and, on local labors side, Andrew J. Diamond, one of the programs most articulate defenders (and a prime beneficiary). There are minor flaws. This reader, at least, would have appreciated more personal shop floor vignettes concerning how the ERP actually worked. In his discussion of wages in Chapter 6 (143) readers would have benefited from information on retail prices. Were mine workers at Ludlow forced to shop at company stores? One assumes that steel workers in Pueblo had access to retail stores not controlled by management, but information is missing. Once again, in his discussion of the decline of coal operations during the Depression (184), his analysis would have been strengthened by inclusion of more numbers and detail. Less important, the maps in the preface are legible only with a magnifying glass. However, these shortcomings do not significantly detract from a useful and timely contribution to regional and national labor relations. Reviewer Info: Mark S. Foster is professor emeritus at the University of Colorado Denver. He has written eleven books, focusing on the automobile culture and city planning, and including several biographies of prominent American entrepreneurs. A secondary interest is regional history and the emergence of baseball in the Rocky Mountain region.