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Saturday, July 30, 2016

The First (recorded) National Labor Negotiations in America -- Stove Molders meet Stove Manufacturers, June 1893. [In Progress]

This is a bit of a new departure for me, and will take a while to turn into more than a stub because it's summer, not the time for sitting at a keyboard blogging about stove history.  Once again, it's a response to somebody else's agenda -- in this case to a young labor historian (well, young-ish, but almost every active academic historian seems young to me nowadays) Wes Bishop, who posted on Facebook about working at the Library of Congress on some papers that I had poked around in years ago, and never used -- those of John P. Frey, b. 1871, a stove molder turned labor activist, journalist, and apparatchik.

Wes is interested in the labor politics of the early 1890s, and that made me think of one of the longest discussion transcripts that I came across while reading my way through the proceedings of the National Association of Stove Manufacturers (NASM) from its origins in the early 1870s to the end of the 1920s, when it seems to have disappeared -- the record of an extraordinary meeting when a delegation of leaders of the stove molders in the Iron Molders' Union of North America (IMU) came to justify their request for a 15 percent raise at the Stove Manufacturers' twenty-second annual convention in June 1893.  I have made a PDF of these discussions from my own hard copy of the original (located in the New York State Library, Albany) and posted it online. What I am going to do here is to contextualize it, give some background on the dramatis personae, and explain what was going on and why it was significant.

The Context

I've actually written, and even published, about this before, so I think the most economical thing to do here is just to refer to that old stuff.  The most important thing to understand about these negotiations in June 1893 is that they took place under the pioneering 1891 Chicago Agreement between the Molders and the Stove Founders National Defense Association (SFNDA), a special-purpose organization spun off by the NASM in the mid-1880s to enable them to confront the challenge provided by a resurgent IMU.  They were an attempt to build on the Chicago Agreement's success as a tool for minimizing local strikes by providing for negotiation and a form of mediation to settle them, and to use it in addition as a way of avoiding expensive and risky national strikes by seeking broad agreement on changes in wages -- in a labor-intensive business like stove molding, always the most sensitive issue.  This had been the intention of both sides to the agreement from the outset, but 1893 was the first attempt -- at the Molders' instigation -- to carry it into effect.

I first came across the IMU, NASM, SFNDA, and Chicago Agreement more than thirty years ago, quite early in my research on labor relations in the Philadelphia metal trades.  I spent a summer vacation in Oxford during which much of my reading focused on this unexpectedly interesting and important industry and the way it served as a sort of experimental space for labor and employer organization in the 1880s and 1890s.  I have read a lot more about it since then, but my first attempt at making sense of the stove industry's labor relations -- written in draft in 1985 and discussed with the late David Montgomery, who was then a visiting professor at Oxford -- stands up pretty well.  This turned into one of the early scene-setting chapters for my Philadelphia manuscript, but it only survived until the 1995 final draft submitted to Cambridge University Press.  Most of it had to be discarded in order to carve that enormous manuscript down to a more or less publishable size over the next couple of years.  Anyway, here it is: Setting a Pattern, c. 1850-1900 (esp. pp. 18-).

I have come back to the Chicago Agreement on at least two further occasions during my career, both times bringing more evidence to bear, notably much more primary source material than I knew about, or could even have got hold of, 20-30 years ago.  One of the resulting articles, Between Convergence and Exceptionalism: Americans and the British Model of Labor Relations, c. 1867-1920,” Labor History 48 (2007): 141-73, only touched on it in its discussion of the rise of the "trade agreement" idea in American labor relations in the 1890s and early 1900s (pp. 144-46). But the other, "Coping With Competition: Cooperation and Collusion in the US Stove Industry, c. 1870-1930," Business History Review 86:4 (Winter 2012): 657-692, was much more substantial, including a quite thorough treatment of how the SFNDA arose from the NASM and how the two closely related organizations continued to interact (pp. 671-75).

More useful links:

Given the small amount of worthwhile secondary literature about either the Molders or the Stove Founders, and the difficulty of getting any primary sources on the latter (which was quite secretive, and left a very small paper-trail behind it, unlike the NASM), some of the best information about them is contained in near-contemporary scholarship. This is because it was often based on collaboration between scholars and the organizations they were writing about, which meant that they had access to materials which have never entered the public domain and no longer survive.

Clarence E. Bonnett's chapter in his classic Employers' Associations in the United States: A Study of Typical Associations (New York: Macmillan, 1922), pp. 37-, is still the best way in.

For the Molders, Frank T. Stockton's The International Molders Union of North America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, Studies in History & Political Science Vol. 29, No. 3, 1922), esp. pp. 120-27 is similarly excellent. Even better in some respects is William H. Chartener's 1952 Harvard Ph.D. "The Molders' and Foundry Workers' Union: A Study of Union Development," but unfortunately it is still only available as a microfilm.

On their mutual relations, John P. Frey and John R. Commons's "Conciliation in the Stove Industry," Bulletin of the Bureau of Labor Vol. 12, No. 62 (January, 1906), pp. 124-96, is an exhaustively informative examination of the background to the Chicago Agreement and of its working over its first fifteen years. It is, however, wrong (because ignorant?) about the 1893 discussions. According to Frey and Commons, the "request for an advance was not pressed" because by June "the financial panic became evident" (pp. 158-9). In fact, this joint meeting of NASM and SFNDA members (overlapping groups, but not completely) and the IMU representatives' arguments are evidence that it was pressed quite hard, but that in the worsening economic conditions it was resisted.

Less accessible, except through a good research library, George E. Barnett's "Report on the Agreement between the Molders' International Union and the Stove Founders National Defense Association," (21 Dec. 1914), in Melvyn Dubofsky, ed., Research Collections in Labor Studies: The Wilson Administration and American Workers: the U.S. Commission on Industrial Relations, 1912-1915. Unpublished Records (Frederick, MD, 1985), Reel 9, extends the Frey and Commons study's coverage by almost a decade.

Finally, Russell Bauder,'s "National Collective Bargaining in the Foundry Industry," American Economic Review 24:3 (Sept. 1934): 462-76, is also very sound, though the IMU/SFNDA relationship was not his principal focus.

A Bit of Data

At the time of these negotiations, there were about 72-75,000 molders in the United States, of whom about 13,000 were union members [Sources: US Historical Statistics and US Census Bureau (& Alba Edwards) for molders, Chartener for union members.] There is no separate figure for stove molders alone, and in any case there was some movement between different sectors of the skilled foundry labor force. But as the stove industry included nearly 300 establishments at the time with a combined labor force of c. 25-30,000 of whom molders were the largest group, an estimate for the latter of 12-15,000 is probably not too far wrong. One can be reasonably confident that at this time most IMU members were stove molders, and most stove molders were IMU members. The overall "union density" figure of c. 17-18 percent therefore understates union strength in the stove industry, which is what had brought the employers to the bargaining table in 1891 and would help keep them there for decades. By way of comparison, the second-largest union in the metal trades, the Machinists, only had about two-thirds as many members as the Molders in the mid-1890s, and a union density that barely registered on the scale -- 3 percent. [Sources: Perlman, Machinists; US Historical Statistics.] The Molders were thus, for the time, and particularly within the stove industry, a uniquely well-organized group of skilled manufacturing workers.

The Depression of the 1890s affected the Iron Molders' Union as it did all others, and membership would not return to its 1893 level until 1898. IMU membership did not, however, slip very far -- at the worst, there was an 11 percent drop (1893-1897). Union density did not exceed its 1893 level until 1899.

These negotiations therefore took place at the end of a period of modest IMU growth, and were followed by a period of decline which undoubtedly weakened the union's bargaining power but was actually surprisingly small. This probably reflected the stability that the Chicago Agreement had brought to the industry -- i.e. by the early-/mid-1890s employers, too, had enough of a stake in peaceful labor relations that they did little to exploit the union's weakness. The negotiations took place when the union's strength had just passed its peak, and the Depression was about to become a whole lot worse. But the (qualified) mutual understanding and respect that they revealed would enable both parties to get through that Depression in much better shape than they had the economic crises of the 1870s and 1880s.

* * *

There are less good data about the economic health of the stove industry itself from NASM Secretary Thomas's annual reports. These were based on unweighted averages of the estimates of sales, stocks, and prices supplied by member firms themselves, extrapolated to cover the large number of nonmember firms and members that failed to submit reports. They are probably best taken as indicative of the direction of change from year to year rather than of the precise magnitude of that change. Those caveats admitted, the data are the best, because the only ones, available. The message that sales figures convey is of a sustained expansion from 1887 to 1892 (from an index value of 101 in 1887, where 1886's sales = 100, to 130 in 1892), running out of steam in 1892. 1893, the first year of the depression, saw a 13 percent decline, with similar figures over the next three years. The index bottomed out at a value of 78 in 1897. If these estimates are anywhere near accurate, then the stability of piecework prices through a sustained period of severe contraction is an even greater and more surprising phenomenon of the downward stickiness of wages within a regulated labor market.


[p. 165]

The format of the meeting was that the members of the IMU's Conference Committee (in place since 1891) made their pitches and then NASM/SFNDA members responded.  It was chaired by NASM President George Davis Dana. Dana had been attending Association meetings since 1881, a member of its Board of Managers since 1887, and its vice-president the previous year, i.e. he had taken the standard route to the top.  Dana, b. 1845, had started work at Giles Franklin Filley's Excelsior Stove Works in St. Louis -- possibly already the largest in the country, a status it had certainly achieved by the early 1870s -- in 1862, fresh out of Washington University.  Excelsior was a family business, and Dana, its Secretary by the early 1880s, was the only non-family member in senior management.  (It is possible and actually quite likely that he may have been a family connection: his mother was a Lyman, and another Lyman had been an important business associate of the Filley family in their native Connecticut, in New York, and when they joined the Yankee mercantile diaspora in the Midwest.  The name could be a mere coincidence, but it was quite normal for recruitment into clerical and managerial positions in family firms to be done from extended family networks.)  It was also a vehemently anti-union business: Filley had fought the Molders from the 1860s through the 1880s, and was influential in the movement to set up the SFNDA in the first place.

Martin Fox (Cincinnati), the Molders' president since 1890, and an architect of the IMU's transformation into a disciplined, "responsible" bargaining partner for the SFNDA and other employers, led off for the IMU.  

[p. 166] He began by tracing the request for a meeting back to the Molders' presentation of their demand for a 15 percent increase earlier in the year, according to the timetable that the Chicago Agreement prescribed.  One interesting feature is the sentence in par. 2 ["While this ... or not."] in which he makes clear how bargaining with the SFNDA, which only represented a part of the industry (though most of the larger firms), was intended by the Union to lead to agreements which would be imposed by the Union on all firms.  This "contract extension" practice appealed to members of the SFNDA too, though they did not, perhaps could not, explicitly endorse it, because it meant that non-members could not undercut member firms on wages or escape the increasingly restrictive agreements about working conditions that were another product of the Agreement.

Fox's case for an increase was eminently "businesslike," based on an over-optimistic assessment of the conditions and prospects of the industry (an "ability to pay" argument) combined with drawing attention to the amount of dissatisfaction with wage rates among the Union's members and locals, which the officers had controlled.  This would become a standard part of a "responsible" union's bargaining pitch -- the "managers of discontent" argument, i.e. pointing to the membership, and implicitly threatening strike activity or other disturbances if the employers did not concede or at least compromise to demonstrate their commitment to the bargaining relationship and the shared goal of industrial peace.  To make a 15 percent demand look more reasonable, Fox drew attention [p. 167] to the strong support among the Locals for 20-25 percent.  

One other important point spans pp. 166-7 ["Knowing that ... their competitors."]  This was an additional advantage of national collective bargaining: it enabled manufacturers to escape from a situation where some firms' or districts' labor costs were significantly different from others', and thus to reduce the likelihood that competitors' costs of production could be too far apart.  Companies could not do this for themselves, but the Union could do it for them.  This was a win for both sides, because the Union too aimed for greater uniformity of wage rates across its membership, but Fox presents the issue as the Union officers protecting employers from what would have happened in any previous business cycle -- local and sectional strikes to achieve advances wherever wages and working conditions were out of line (on the low side) or union strength was enough to offer a good prospect of success.

[p. 168] Note the way in which Fox bases his arguments in "facts" -- surveys of quantitative data on earnings -- in a way designed to impress employers and emphasize the Union's modernity and responsibility.  But note too the deployment of a more traditional "moral economy" argument -- "That the earnings of the molders have increased since 1885 in some localities by from five to ten per cent., may be true; but, gentlemen, it was his extra exertions and working to the extreme limit of his endurance that enabled him to earn the increase referred to, and not owing to any advance in prices..."

Something that needs to be understood is that stove molding was almost entirely a piece-rate job, and quite unmechanized.  Fox talked about "wages," but strictly speaking there was no such thing as a stove molders' wage rate. Instead, there was a multitude of separate molding prices for every single pattern a shop worked with.  An individual molder's weekly earnings depended on the number of good castings he made, and the prices of every single one of them, less allowances.  They were thus highly variable.  

The practice of piece-work payment had evolved between the 1830s and the 1850s, when the Union was formed, and had developed its own language.  The key term Fox uses is at the end of par. 3, p. 168 -- "board prices."  The price of molding a single casting from every pattern was recorded in every foundry. Once a price was fixed, it rarely changed.  And when a new pattern needed to be molded, its price was fixed with reference to existing patterns of similar size and complexity, in a process sometimes involving more or less formal shop-level bargaining.  

The key assumption was that there was no significant technological change in molding -- more or less true in the stove industry into the 1900s -- which was why fixing a price and sticking to it for years, and setting new ones by comparison with old ones, still made sense to both masters and men.  But of course wage and price levels in the industrial economy did go up and down, depending on the state of the markets, and the same was true in stove founding.  When molders asked for "15 percent," what they were demanding was not something that would deliver a 15 percent increase on molders' weekly wages, but a 15 percent increase on "board prices."  The board price did not change, but a molder would get 15 percent above board.  [For more about this, see Frey & Commons, pp. 125-7.]  Fox argues that the 15 percent increase is intended to make up for the reductions in "board prices" imposed during the depression of the early/mid-1880s and, in many foundries and districts, not restored since.

[p. 169] Another mixture of a survey-&-statistics based argument and a "moral economy" one: "Taking into consideration the character of the work, the skill required, the labor expended, and the difficulties and disadvantages which the molder has to contend with, he is the lowest paid of all mechanics."  This was not, in fact, the message of most impartial earnings surveys, which put molders towards or at the top of blue-collar occupations, but Fox is making a "we deserve it!" argument rather than getting too bogged down in details.

In the next breath, however, he makes it plain that he understands the realities of the business perfectly well: that manufacturers' concern was not primarily with the level of wages, provided that they all had more or less the same labor costs; and that their objection to the union's demands was that they were not confident that they could raise the price of their stoves enough to cover the increased labor costs.  The IMU was thus running up squarely against the NASM's long-term problem: its inability to achieve  its own ambition of being an effective price-fixing quasi-cartel, for which see my "Coping with Competition."

[p. 170] Fox simply could not believe that associations representing c. 80 percent of the industry lacked the ability to raise, and fix prices.  But by the mid-1890s that was exactly the lesson that NASM activists had learned. Competition among them, and between them and the minority of firms outside of the Association, was enough to make price fixing problematic.

In the second paragraph, Fox again lets realism creep in: the IMU had missed the boat -- the "stringency in the money market" he referred to was in fact the start of the "Panic of 1893," ushering in a depression that did not begin to lift until 1898 or 1899, and during which unemployment trebled. 

The third paragraph sums up the IMU's new approach -- responsible, disciplined, market-responsive and regulatory unionism.  "We have placed this proposition before you in a strict business manner.  We are making every effort to get away from the old line of argument [when the IMU had depended on the strike weapon, and had often been fiercely opposed to the workings of market capitalism]..."  The molders simply wanted to "share with you in the prosperity that has existed in the trade during the past two years, and of which there is every prospect of continuance during the year."

[p. 171] Fox reviews the manufacturers' experience under the Chicago Agreement, when the IMU had "tried to so conduct  our affairs as to entirely avoid strikes" and "to treat all manufacturers upon that same line, whether they were members of the organization [the SFNDA] or not" -- i.e. he cannot resist the temptation to keep returning to variations on the argument that an increase is not simply affordable, it is deserved as the quid for the quo that the union has already delivered, including its restraint in delaying the increase request and moderating its members' demands.

[p. 172] "We have treated this strictly in a purely business manner, and we wish to continue on the same line -- this is to steer clear of strikes if it is possible to do so. [NOT a threat] ... with workmen there is always a certain amount of suspicion that nothing can be accomplished except by force.  It remains with you, gentlemen, whether we [emphasis added] can entirely destroy that suspicion by granting us an advance in wages."

* par. 2 is interesting -- Fox turns the manufacturer's argument, that there are many molders not skilled enough to deserve high wages, back onto them, and explains that they are a product of the industry's history of strikes -- i.e. these men got their chance as strikebreakers, and the union had to take them in to defend itself, and to insist that they get the same rates as fully skilled men.  A period of industrial peace will, he promises, cut off the future supply of such incompetents.

[p. 173] mostly repeats the argument that the ball is in the stove manufacturers' court -- it's up to them to demonstrate to rank-&-file molders that the experiment in national collective bargaining can deliver for them, and that this is in manufacturers' long-term best interests.

* Note the defense against the classic argument that the rank-&-file aren't the source of any discontent, it's all been got up by the officers (agitators): in fact, they had "worked hard just directly the opposite," and "want to show to the members that the feeling and prejudice and suspicion that exists against the members of the Defense Association, and in fact against the manufacturers in general, is unfounded, and that nothing can be accomplished except by resort to strikes is an erroneous idea."  The officers were on the same side as the more enlightened manufacturers, and it was up to the latter to support, by their actions, the strategy of the former before their skeptical membership. 

The audience -- overwhelmingly manufacturers -- responded to Fox's address with applause; whether it was just polite is something we cannot know.

The Molders' representatives who followed Fox were meant to explain the situation in their particular localities, and also to back him up by demonstrating that he was speaking for the membership as a whole.

Joshua G. Galloway (Local #45, Dayton, OH), b. 1843, became a molder and union activist in 1870 after distinguished Civil War service, and served as a local and national officer through the next couple of decades.  His dedication to Fox's vision of the Union's new role even made its way into his biography in a local history: "The object of the formation of the Iron union is to secure the settlement of labor questions between employers and employees by arbitration rather than by strikes and turbulence, and in the advocacy of this humane and effective method of settling these troubles Mr. Galloway stands prominent." Galloway had been a Knight of Labor since 1876, and was a labor organizer and reformist political activist who described himself as a "Jeffersonian Democrat." This background shows through in the language he uses to describe the capitalist system throughout his address and subsequent interventions in discussion.

[p. 174] Note that Galloway assumes that manufacturers will have read his article in the Molders' Journal the previous month, emphasizing the fact that the foundry trade was quite a tight community, and that many manufacturers had started out as molders and might even still be honorary members of the union.

[pp. 175] Galloway seems to have been a believer in a version of the labor theory of value.  His arguments are mostly just restatements of Fox's, but this is interesting, against the manufacturers' claim that competition among them made it impossible for them to raise prices enough to cover the Molders' desired raise: "The fact that competition among you as a class, regardless of a well-defined policy [price-fixing] that would conform to a strict line of honest dealing between you, is an element that you have to contend with is none of our business.  While we deplore it, nevertheless we think it is your business to remedy that, and we are willing to help you all we can by finding a remedy." This points towards the future significance of the Chicago Agreement, as the manufacturers' best  (and entirely legal) protection against excessive competition, whether on costs or prices.

"[M]y dear friend Thomas" is David M. Thomas, NASM Secretary 1886-1895 -- the Association's only salaried officer and one of its, and SFNDA's, key strategists.  {Obit NASM 1895 p. 153 reref}

[p. 176] After a rather confused section referring, probably, to anti-saloon agitation in Chicago, Galloway gets back to the essence of the IMU leaders' strategy, their desire to "get away from the fraud and force system and to come together as men of intelligence and act honestly with each other, and we ask your cooperation in that effort, and that is why we have been so patient."

* Interesting -- Galloway, 50, and deeply involved in politics, fraternal activities, and labor reform, was a full-time (6 days a week) highly skilled molder averaging $3 a day.  He must have returned to the sand heap quite recently after serving 14 months as superintendent of the Dayton Employment Office, and he would soon leave it again to become postmaster of the national military home.   Galloway was not a new-style labor bureaucrat, more the sort of labor reformer David Montgomery wrote about in Beyond Equality [See esp. "The Lure of Office," pp. 208-15.]

[p. 177] Galloway shares the buzzing of the reformist bees in his bonnet with his audience -- "There is a pressure behind you as manufacturers far greater than you are; a great pressure behind us [emphasis added] as producers, and it is the heinous oppressor Monopoly that is bringing about all these things. ... I believe we are justly entitled to what we ask, and I hope we can go away from here saying, 'We have got it.' (Applause.)"

John Campbell (Member of IMU Executive Board, Quincy, IL).

I cannot find any biographical data about Campbell, but his own account [pp. 178-9] of the troubled 1880s, the background to the IMU's change of strategy, makes clear how long and deeply he had been involved in Molders affairs.  "My friend Mr. Castle" is Chauncey H. Castle (b. 1843), president of Quincy's largest stove company and a leader in the SFNDA, identified as one of the instigators of the conference leading up to the Chicago Agreement.  

[p. 180] "I was heartily in favor of the movement, supposing that the old system of strikes was detrimental in every sense, even to the victor.  I went in with sincerity of purpose to make it a success."

Campbell makes clear that a wage increase had been on the Molders' agenda for the entire life of the Agreement, and that there had been some sympathy from the manufacturers -- "They believed an advance in wages would be beneficial to all concerned; that there were very little profits in our wages, and by giving the advance perhaps the goods would be advanced."  In other words, the price level requiring the continued payment of lower wages to molders could be increased, after a raise, by more than enough to pay it.  This was the essential logic of national bargaining in a labor-intensive, competitive industry.

* The rest of p. 180 is a series of assertions by Campbell about the conditions of work -- that manufacturers have reduced the quality of key raw materials (iron, facing sand), increasing the difficulty of turning out enough good product to translate board prices into adequate wages.  "Discount" refers to castings rejected at inspection, and not paid for.

[p. 181] Campbell rehearses the 1891 and 1892 negotiations, and the IMU officers' work to keep their members' growing impatience under control.

[p. 182] But his own patience seems to have run out -- Campbell was giving up on the Agreement, and advocating a return to the "old system," i.e. local strikes in well-organized sections, like his own Quincy, if national negotiations did not deliver.

Martin F. Monahan (Local #8, Albany) -- there is a biography of him, and even a picture, in the Iron Molders Journal for 1896.  Monahan (b. 1858) was a leader of Albany stove molders' strong local union, and had chaired the dispute-settling Conference Committee established under the Chicago Agreement on the two occasions when they met with the NASM.

[p. 183] The pressure for a raise comes from the members, not  the officers -- "The abuse that has been heaped upon the officers of the International Union has been unbearable. ... They claim they have been three years in conference, and nothing has been gained; that the price of stoves has advanced, but our wages have stood still; that it would have been better to have let it [the Agreement?] go entirely."

* Like Campbell, Monahan makes an argument based in the increased difficulty of the work, in his case because of changes in stove design and raised quality standards, resulting in more effort and more discount, i.e. rejected, unpaid work.  He also [p. 184] criticizes the quality of cheaper raw materials that manufacturers are using, and poor management by their shop foremen, and the adverse consequences for pieceworkers. 

[p. 186] "The limit" probably refers to an informal but effective limit set by molders on how much any man would turn out, and therefore earn, in a day. Monahan is promising that if manufacturers attended to wage rates and other grievances, the production limit of which they complained could also be dealt with.  No quid, no quo.  Monahan, like Campbell, is clearly waving a strike threat as the alternative to settlement -- "It is only a question of time with this trade.  It will be a question of unrest." -- after a period of welcome peace and quiet for manufacturers.  Monahan ends with the usual Molders' assumption -- that a wage increase among SFNDA members would be followed by non-member employers too; and that a corresponding rise in stove prices could be made to stick.  There was no applause at the end of his combattive address. 

Patrick Enright (Local #23, Chicago, IL) -- there is an obituary of him in the IMJ for 1926, but unfortunately it's just snippet view (pp. 19-21).  However, even the snippets are useful -- born Plattsburg, NY, 1851; and so dedicated to the IMU that he mortgaged his house to provide his local union with funds.

[p. 187] Whistling in the wind -- "I do not believe there is any financial danger mixed up with the affairs of stove manufacturers at the present time.  ... I believe the good times are still here..."

"Our organization has given birth to your Defense Association.  It was through its means that yours came into existence."  A nice spin on the events of the 1880s, but essentially true.

* More interesting on why the Molders deserve more -- an "American standard of living" argument, with something in it for the manufacturers too, i.e. a better class of molder.

"Managers of discontent" -- "I hope you will try to do your best and give us some concession, so we can go back and it will not be said we have been bought up body and soul by the Stove Manufacturers' Association.  The conference committee is the butt of shafts of ridicule and bitterness.  We stand between two fires.  We come before you, and we have got to make a fight.  We go back before our people, if we have nothing, to meet still more abuse."

[p. 189] "...the Iron Molders' Union is here to stay.  The organization of labor to-day is an American institution.   The Iron Molders' Union has been in existence over twenty-five years [actually 35], and some of your most brilliant and worthy members stood at its cradle and helped nourish it into life." -- 

Interesting points: (a) the "we're not going away" argument, one of the reasons why SFNDA strategy was to moderate and bargain with the union rather than attempting to defeat it, a hopeless cause; (b) emphasizing the personal closeness between those who had become Masters and those who were still Men in this very self-contained industry.

"... do justice to us as American citizens and men. (Applause.)"  Enright, unlike Monahan, knew how to strike the right rhetorical note. 

The Employers Respond

Henry Cribben led off, appropriately enough because he was one of SFNDA's most important members.  "Coping With Competition," pp. 671-2 contains a brief summary of his fascinating biography -- born on the Isle of Man in 1834, brought to the United States as a young orphan, a stove molder since 1850, a charter member of the IMU in 1858, a distinguished Civil War career, and then a return to the life of Rochester labor activist and New York State workingman's politician until the early 1870s, when he moved to Chicago and became a partner in the Cribben & Sexton Stove Co.  Cribben had been a NASM member since 1873, and played an active part within until the end of his business career thirty years later.  He had been the key strategist of the SFNDA's successful contest with the Molders in the late 1880s, and also an advocate of negotiation after that victory.

Cribben was very diplomatic, explaining that the SFNDA Conference Committee and most Association members supported the idea of a wage increase in principle, and conceding that informal talks alongside the formal conference earlier in the year had led the IMU's representatives to understand that it would be forthcoming when the time was ripe.

[p. 190] But Cribben also pointed to the essential problem: the SFNDA could probably deliver a 10-15 percent wage increase, and almost all of the industry would accept it; but the NASM could not deliver the necessary 7-10 percent price increase required to pay for it, and unlike in the matter of wages, the IMU could not help it compel companies to come into line.  "There is the difference of condition."

[p. 191] Cribben also points to another limitation on the ability of employers to raise prices: the problem of excess capacity, which explained why prices were so low and cartel-like behavior by the NASM to attempt to raise them had failed in the past, and would now.

In summary, Cribben's speech was a "soft No" to the Molders -- Molders deserved higher wages, employers would like to pay them, but unfortunately...

David Thomas [NASM Secretary] intervened to share a letter from the Eastern Pennsylvania stove manufacturers' local association -- one of the country's best organized -- "strongly deprecating any advance in molders' wages."  Many individual members were present to underline its message, so this contribution came close to being a veto on any positive decision.

August Brentano  (of Kiechle, Brentano & Oberdorffer's Southern Stove Works, Evansville, IN) spoke for the smaller firms like his own, and their owners' conservative and anti-labor attitudes:  the molders "had a right to ask an advance, but were careless as to whether the manufacturers made or lost money, and it was an utter impossibility to make the advance.  The stove business is not one at which much money is made, it has made no man rich [not true!], its members do not obtain an adequate return for their capital, have great difficulties to contend with, causing much loss of sleep; while the molder, though working hard, pockets a fair return for his labor and has no anxiety. The demand comes principally [p. 192] from the heads of the organization, and the men generally did not expect an advance."

Grange Sard (b. 1843) represented the other end of the business from Brentano -- the great Albany, NY and Aurora, IL firm of Rathbone, Sard & Co., one of the oldest as well as largest in the industry, which he had entered at the age of 17, in 1860, becoming a partner eight years later.  Sard's firm had been an NASM member since 1872, and he had been a committee member and officer in 1873-1874 and then continuously since 1881, serving as president in 1884-85.  There was probably no more influential voice at this meeting.  He was 

sure that I voice the sentiment of every one here in saying that they have presented their case in a forcible, businesslike manner, highly creditable to the Iron Molders' Union of North America.  This is an occasion that I feel very proud of.  When we ask representatives of our employes to come to us and discuss a business question, and when it is done in the manner in which it has been done here to-day, it shows that we are making progress.  Who would have thought five or ten years ago that we should ever see the time when we should welcome representatives of the Molders' Union to present their case to us?  I will be frank with you in saying that then I should have been unwilling to have consented to it.  But this is a day and age of progress, and I feel very glad, as I believe the rest of us do, that these gentlemen have come here and presented their case.  I do not think that there is a wide difference of opinion between us on very many phases of this subject.  I mean to say, Mr. President, that I, and I believe every one here, would be delighted to grant the request of these gentlemen.  We all want more money.  How can we blame our molders for wanting more money?  They are made as we are, with ambitions and desires that they wish to gratify.  Why should we feel that they have not got a proper right, and why is it not as laudable in them to be ambitious for themselves as it is for us to be ambitious for ourselves and our families?

[p. 193] "I believe there are men in the Molders' Union who can follow the example of some of us and would be able to take our position in our concerns, and I believe that organization may be made a school for taking higher positions and developing larger operations."  -- Fascinating to see that, for Sard, though not for Brentano, molders and their union leaders were not lesser beings, subordinates, or agitators, they were middle-class Americans and perhaps future managers and colleagues.  It was already true that union activism had served as a career highway for molders into entrepreneurship and management (like Cribben, for example), and this would remain true as long as the stove industry survived.

However, after bathing the Molders' leaders in warm words, Sard got back to dollars and cents: a 10-15 percent wage rise did not sound much, but if granted "you will all find ... you will wipe out every dollar of profit you made last year." He did not deny Molders' moral right to more money, but just thought it unaffordable: the stove industry was competitive, and served a national market; employers and skilled workers' unions therefore did not have the same freedom to raise wages as, for example, the construction industry, with its purely local, much more controllable markets.

It is an exhaustive trade.  Therefore, they are entitled to all they are getting, and I wish to God we could give them more. (Applause.) But this is not a question of sympathy.  A man may be ever so generous, but if he has no money to give away he cannot give any.
The problem was, Sard thought, that the Molders' assumption that manufacturers could simply pass on their increased costs by raising their selling prices was wrong.  

[p. 195] "It is an unfortunate fact that if 70 or 80 or 90 per cent. of the stove trade are willing to make an advance and the minority will not do it, the majority cannot.  The only question is, can we carry the trade and can we persuade all they ought to make an advance?"

"[T]he question is not one as to what we would like to do, but what we can do."

I believe we owe a vote of thanks to these sensible and noble men for the manner in which they have presented the case.  I know they are sensible and noble men, for this reason; I know they have been ground down by others on the other side of them, and those radicals who talk and don't think I know have made their life uncomfortable.  I would not be in the position of either of them ...
On the one side are the manufacturers, and on the other side a large body of ignorant and unthinking men who are finding fault [p. 196] because they don't get things for them which they want, and perhaps ought to have.  They are entitled to a great deal of sympathy.  They are courageous, and they are men of conviction, and taking the position they have they are entitled to all credit. (Applause.)

Sard was followed by Lazard Kahn (F. & L. Kahn & Bros., Cincinnati, OH), b. 1850.  If Sard was the Association's elder statesman, Kahn was its somewhat younger progressive.  Kahn had been an occasional attender at NASM conventions since 1882, a committee member since 1890, and was on his way to the vice-presidency and presidency in 1894-6.  Kahn, like Brentano, illustrated something quite interesting about the manufacturers as compared with the union leaders.  The latter were ethnically quite homogeneous -- mostly Catholic Irish like, probably, the largest group among their members.  The manufacturers were more diverse, everything from bourgeois Yankees like Sard all the way to recent Jewish immigrants like Kahn, who had arrived in the United States in 1866 "with a bundle of clothes and a trifle of pocket money," which was quickly stolen.  He got into the stove trade from the bottom, as a stove blacker (polishing them with graphite paste), and then a traveling salesman, until in 1873 he and his younger brother had managed to buy a 2/5 interest in a small established stove foundry, buying out their partners over the following decade, growing the company fast, and eventually building a new, state-of-the-art factory in nearby Hamilton.  Kahn was an advocate of consolidation within the stove trade, and was also dedicated to improving the conditions of labor and the state of labor relations in the industry.  However,
There has not been at any time a situation when the granting of greater remuneration by one manufacturer was not sure to result in injury to himself or disappointment [p. 197] or injury to another. There has never been a time when the Molders' Union could demand and receive an advance, whether entitled to it or not, but that they imposed a hardship upon their fellows in another quarter of the country.
Kahn, like Sard, made free with the warm words, but there was a small difference between their positions: Kahn was clearer than Sard that he favored granting the increase  "if the conditions of trade can be so adjusted as that they will bear it."

After these two rather wordy presentations, George Dana attempted to bring the meeting to a decision: "it goes without question that the sentiment of this meeting is largely in favor of granting the advance to the molders.  The question at issue is: Can we get an advance in our goods such as will compensate us for giving the advance?"

The following exchange is quite revealing:

Mr. Fox: I suppose, Mr. President, you desire us to retire?

The President: No, sir.

[p. 198]

Mr. Fox: We would not like to encroach upon our privilege by staying.

The President: We would like to have you hear the discussion.

What's going on here?  Deference, or just politeness, from the Molders, or perhaps all they expected was an opportunity to state their case, and they assumed discussion must be confidential?  Generosity, or perhaps good politics, from Dana, who wanted to make sure that the Molders' leaders got the clear message that NASM senior officers were committed to the Chicago Agreement, but had their own membership to bring on board?

Frederick B. Sattler (Belleville Stove Works, Belleville, IL):  Sattler, b. 1852,  had been a NASM member since 1887, joining at the time of the SFNDA's great opening campaign against the Molders.  He expressed very sensible caution about the prospects for the market.

William Ellery Walker (Weir Stove Co., Taunton, MA): Walker, a member since 1885 and a member of the Associations's Board of Managers, was clearly unpersuaded by the Molders' arguments, some of which he questioned "being a molder myself" -- something many stove manufacturers could also say.  (Walker and two other upwardly mobile artisans had founded Weir Stove in 1879; it became the largest stove maker in New England.  He shared with Henry Cribben the experience of surviving Confederate prisons during the Civil War.)  His main point is to underline Sattler's caution about prices and demand -- the NASM Price Committee, of which he was a member, [p. 199] "could see no possible way of getting better prices for our goods. ... the main thing has been in most of our business to try to maintain the prices we are now getting, if possible."

William T. Bradberry (Anshutz-Bradberry Co., Pittsburgh): Bradberry, b. 1839,  was another member of the Civil War generation, mustering out as a sergeant in 1865 after three years' service; in 1890 he had been the SFNDA's vice-president during Cribben's presidency.  Bradberry's was a small point, but one that other members would build on: that the Molders had gained during the period of the Chicago Agreement, despite the lack of a wage increase -- in the Pittsburgh region, by more regular working, i.e. more days at work per year.

Samuel R. Baldwin (of Duncan & Baldwin, Pittsburgh):  Baldwin, b. 1841 was another former molder and Civil War veteran (invalided out after Bull Run).  Baldwin added to Bradberry's point, that "the molders have gained more through their conferences and through the organization of this Association [the SFNDA] than the manufacturers have themselves."  His argument centred on the near-elimination of strikes, and also of [p. 200] the old hard bargaining between manufacturers and their men.  

I have seen the time when my store-house was full of stoves and I said to my men, "You see the condition of things here and my orders; I cannot give you the additional work unless you are willing to work for me for ten per cent. less temporarily."  They accepted it.  Am I at liberty to say ... that to them at the present time?  No.  Have not the molders gained by that condition of affairs?   It was a constant fight of the manufacturers to take advantage of their neighbors.  If a manufacturer found his neighbor was paying a little less than he was he would want to reduce his price, and consequently there were strikes here and there most of the time.  Now that condition of affairs has entirely passed away, and we have been free from strikes.
As far as Baldwin was concerned, molders "have ... gained greater advantage by this Association than the manufacturers themselves have."  Going forward, the outlook for the market was now so poor that, rather than manufacturers being ready to offer molders the advance that had been half-promised in conferences between them, "there is more cause for this Association asking the molders to accept a reduction than there is for the molders to ask for an advance."

[p. 201] Baldwin proceeded to demolish some of the Molders' representatives' other arguments -- that their wages were lower than those of other comparable skilled occupations; and that manufacturers could advance the price of stoves. Perhaps, said Baldwin, but only at the cost of a reduction in demand for stoves, and therefore for molders' labor.   As for the "managers of discontent" argument, "I appreciate the condition these gentlemen are placed in as regards their organization, but they never should have gotten into their minds that there was any idea of getting an increase from any communication or intimation received from the manufacturers."  Baldwin's recommendation was for no change in wages or in the Chicago Agreement, and that this should be enough for the Molders to accept.  The employers had the upper hand, thanks to the state of the market.  "They have the power in their own hands, and the stronger side should probably have a little credit for magnanimity for not reducing wages."  

Baldwin's position and argument would end up being the one the NASM and SFNDA adopted.  

[p. 202]

George H. Barbour (Michigan Stove Co., Detroit).  Barbour, b. 1843, had been one of the original investors in Michigan Stove, which rapidly became one of the largest in the country, in 1872, company secretary until 1886, and vice-president and general manager thereafter.  He had been an active NASM member since 1876, an officer from 1884, and president in 1888-89.

Barbour mostly just supported the arguments for no change already offered by Sard and others, but there was one distinctive feature in his address.  Barbour's background was as a dry goods and grocery merchant.  Unlike most manufacturers' representatives, he could not speak about molders' labor with the authority of personal experience.  "I do not consider the molder's life an easy one.  I thank God I did not have to become one myself.  I think they earn every dollar they get."  His company would gladly pay more, if they could afford it; but...

J.M. Kelly (Lexington Foundry Co., Lexington, KY): Kelly was a SFNDA but not a NASM member, representative of a small firm in the emerging Upper South production region.  This was his first and only national stove convention. Barbour's comments forced him to speak up:

I spent about fifteen years in the sand, and quite a number of years on the other side of the question.  I do not know but some of the gentlemen here [Molders] recollect my being at some of their conferences.  ... I know I have been far happier when I was a molder than I have been since. ... My mind was free when I was a molder, but it has not been since.
This is a version of a common employer's argument for why blue-collar workers wages were sufficient, i.e. they bore none of the responsibilities of ownership and management, and had nothing to worry about.

(Barbour hastened to explain "that it is no ill-respect to the molder, but I thank God my lot was cast in pleasanter places.")

Grange Sard argued for a lunch recess at this point, and also for making the meeting manufacturers-only after the adjournment, to decide the question: "it is desirable that some [p. 203] gentlemen express themselves upon this subject, but they may have some delicacy about doing so before the Molders' Union representatives." 

Dickerson McAfee (Thomas White Stove Co., Quincy, IL), b. 1848: McAfee's arguments added little to those of earlier speakers, simply emphasizing that a price advance could not be made to stick.

Uriah Hill, Jr. (Union Stove Works, Peekskill, NY): Hill, b. 1817, was the Grand Old Man of the stove industry, one of the NASM's founding members in 1872 and an officer (Board member, Vice President, and Treasurer) between 1878 and 1886.  More of the same -- "I am glad to know that we have men in the trade who are so able to present the subject as these men have done who are here before us today [the Molders' representatives].  I would be more rejoiced to give them the advance than they are to ask it if I saw my way clear. ... All the laborers are entitled to all they can get.  But an advance is not practicable. ... If we advance the price of stoves it would be disastrous to us, and whatever is disastrous to us is also detrimental to those who depend on us. The molders make the goods, but we have to depend upon others to buy the goods."

[p. 204] "Do not let us be deceived by brief moments of prosperity."  Hill evidently believed there was overcapacity in the industry.

* The NASM had already (the previous day) decided not to attempt to advance prices, so in practice the outcome of the SFNDA's discussions with the IMU had already been determined.

Henry Cribben intervened to establish that the IMU representatives did not just have to sit and listen, they were free to ask questions if they wished.

Joshua Galloway immediately seized his chance.  [p. 205]  The point on which he pressed was that manufacturers were sheltering behind the argument that there was excess capacity in the industry.  But who, he asked, had been investing in increasing that capacity?  "It does seem very singular and unreasonable that you should be piling up the very articles that you wish to get rid of."

Dickerson McAfee explained -- the aim of his investment was to reduce costs and improve his firm's competitivity, not to increase output.

Galloway responded with a long rant about the malfunctioning of capitalism. "You people who hold this form of capital called 'money' [p. 206] hold the opportunities we have for work. ... it is a dictatorial position you occupy."

[p. 207] Warm words about the organization of labor were well and good, but Galloway wanted more money for the workers, the source of all wealth.  "In 1860 the total wealth of this country was only sixteen billion of dollars in round numbers.  Who has got it now?  This very power is absorbing the products of my labor and pouring it into that fathomless pit..."

John Campbell ...

[p. 208]

Henry Cribben replied to the Molders for the SFNDA, and as an old molder himself.  He had several lines of attack:

  • questioning the figures (from Ohio's Labor Bureau, of which he had been an officer) Galloway had quoted for molders' average wages.
  • referring to his own experience instead -- "I have 'been there' myself.  I know all about it.  There is no use of talking" (which he then proceeded to do).  The essence of his comments was that molders earned more than the Molders claimed, and the most highly skilled earned a lot more.
[p. 209]

Chauncey H. Castle more or less wrapped up the discussion with an interesting remark showing how close local relationships between Molders' officers and the employers they dealt with could be.

[p. 210]


The Molders' representatives did not come back after lunch.  Discussion was all about the following statement and decision:
Resolved, First, That the possible rate of molding depends upon the selling price of the stove,Second, That the rate of molding is now as large as the price of stoves will permit,Third, That the 1892 price of stoves cannot possibly be advanced during this year, and it is therefore  impracticable  to comply with the request for an advance in present price of molding,Resolved, That as soon as an advance in the price of stoves can be made and sustained a relative advance in the rates of molding shall be made. 
It rapidly became clear that influential members thought the language of the final resolution gave too many hostages to fortune.  [p. 211] Even Secretary Thomas seems to have had his doubts.  "This is a firm statement..., so there must be no mistake about it."

Abram C. [Cox] Mott (Abram Cox Stove Co., Philadelphia), b. 1850 and a member since 1883, objected on behalf of the Eastern Pennsylvania Association, which had already applied a "general reduction" (he did not specify whether that was to prices, or wages, or both; his audience would have known).

Francis Kernan (Syracuse Stove Works, Syracuse, NY) , b. 1853, objected to "the last clause entirely. ... [I]t means nothing, and only throws out a little bait to a set of practical, hard-headed men."

Chauncey Castle, for the SFNDA officers and Conference Committee members, argued otherwise. "These men have behind them another set of men, who are pushing them to accomplish something.  They have stated to their members that we [SFNDA negotiators] have promised to do certain things."  So there was a political argument for giving them the words, if not the raise itself.

[p. 212]

Uriah Hill, Jr. joined the objectors. "We are only inviting dispute hereafter.  We are making an excuse for these very demands. ... We shall only be inviting trouble by putting ourselves on record. ... We spoil them by going on and inviting them to watch for a time to come when an advance can be made,"

[p. 213]

Grange Sard spoke in favor of the officers' original proposal.  "We have said to this committee [the Molders' representatives] that if the business conditions would justify it, we would be glad to advance the price of molding.  But we have not said it to the large body of the molders."  The words "would have a good effect."

James W. Van Cleave (Buck's Stove & Range Co., St. Louis) did not have much to say on this occasion, but in little more than a decade he would be making his mark on American labor history with his legal war against the American Federation of Labor and its boycott weapon.

[p. 214]

Francis Kernan underlined his objections: according to Secretary Thomas [p. 212] it would be up to "The manufacturer himself" to decide when he could advance the price of his stoves, and make a comparable adjustment in molders' wages.  Kernan's problem was "that this is a meeting of stove manufacturers.   It is a meeting of men over whom there is no regulation or control."  This is interesting, and points to the inexperience of even the SFNDA's officers with national bargaining.  They could not force their members to make a uniform or coordinated wage increase, and were not confident they would follow the Association's lead, so proposed to leave it up to every manufacturer to decide when, for him, the time was right.  Kernan thought this a recipe for argument: it was wrong "to throw out a bait which has no strength or substance to it.  It is a deception ... that brings about a great deal of trouble."

[p. 215]

Charles S. Prizer (Orr, Painter & Co., Reading, PA), the NASM's vice-president, like Castle and Sard, attempted to save the original resolution, very slightly modified.  He thought it was both safe -- "the price of stoves will not advance unless conditions are very favorable, unless there is a good demand, and unless we can afford to pay them more than we now do ... the price of stoves will never advance as long as these conditions do not prevail" -- and right: "In view of what has been said by the molders this morning, I think it is no more than fair to make a plain answer to their request."

George H. Barbour, on the other hand, joined with those counseling caution:  "whatever tender we make to the molders we ought to be sincere. ... We ought to look at this thing carefully.  It simply does not amount to anything.  It is possible to give them something which will have the right ring.  There is no condition which will warrant a present advance, and whatever answer we give them ought to be as definite as possible." [p. 216] Like Kernan, he was concerned about how a "general advance" could be implemented by a voluntary association: "I do not believe any member here, if he found fifty per cent. of the members of this body had only agreed to pay an advance, would feel like paying the molders that advance.  They would say the other fifty per cent. were keeping prices down, to avoid competition."  His conditions for supporting the resolution were impossibly high -- the resolution "should be something that will be binding and carried out by every member."

George D. Dana reinforced Barbour's argument.  "At the conference meeting and at the meeting this morning the expression from the molders' committee was all  to the effect that they had been fed with promises for two or three years past and nothing definite had been given them.  I am not in favor of anything but a plain business answer to a plain business proposition.  Unless we can give them some definite promise we must not employ any subterfuge.  We know we cannot give them a definite promise upon future business."

[p. 217]

Chauncey Castle again tried to save the day -- "If we have been willing to make a statement that we would be willing to advance when it was possible to do so, why should we collectively not be willing to have the courage to put that sort of thing on record so it would be in form so they can show their constituents that they have that promise?"

But August Brentano, a canny small businessman, objected.  "Those gentlemen do not want promises; they want realities.  If you can give the advance say so, and if you can not then say so."

George H. Holland (Bridge, Beach & Co., St. Louis) [Holland, b. 1847, was Bridge & Beach's Treasurer, having started out as a clerk in 1869; he had been attending NASM conventions, i.e. had become a company officer, since 1875, and in 1892 was one of its vice-presidents; his firm had played a leading role in the 1887 Molders' lockout, and he remained one of the SFNDA's negotiators with the IMU into the 1900s, alongside Castle, Cribben, Mott, and Sard] supported him: members could not pay their molders more without getting higher prices, so "Let us say to them that the condition of affairs is worse than when we met them in March, and that we cannot see our way clear to meet the demand."

[p. 218]

And that was the end.  Kernan's  amendment was adopted, by the "general meeting of the stove manufacturers" rather than by the SFNDA, which was technically the negotiating body, and the long attempt to get something for the Molders out of 1893's stalled discussions failed.

But, strangely, with the passage of time what might seem to have been a failure of the Chicago Agreement to deliver for the Molders came to look like a success. For even though there was no raise, and in fact conditions in the industry became bleaker and bleaker as the Panic of 1893 turned into the Depression of 1893-1897 (or 8), something very novel happened: in all previous depressions and recessions, employers had cut molders' wages.  In an industry where labor was the manufacturer's largest cost, what else could they do?  But this time they didn't.  The Chicago Agreement could not deliver a wage increase in 1893 -- under the circumstances, nobody could.  But it, and manufacturers' growing commitment to stability and an end to the old cutthroat competition in their relations with their skilled men and with one another that underpinned it, delivered something that was almost as valuable.  

{tba -- return to this after checking the secondary literature and some more primary sources on the impact of the Depression and the maturing of the Chicago Agreement}