While trying to find information about the meat boycott, I came across an article in the Journal of the Gilded age and Progressive Era but couldn’t read the whole thing because of a membership requirement. Curious about this journal, I clicked through and found there a review of a book titled Citizen Employers: Business Communities and Labor in Cincinnati and San Francisco, 1870-1916 that I thought shed some light on American attitudes toward workers and labor unions:
San Francisco employers’ collective organization was affected by a different set of experiences. Confronted by powerful unions and competition from a handful of monopolistic industries employing cheap Chinese labor, San Francisco businessmen joined trade specific and cross-class organizations. As their names suggest, the Associated Boot and Shoe Manufacturers, the Retail Grocers Association, and the Merchants’ Association sustained employers’ trade identity, rather than fostering a broad business-class identity. The two cross-sector business organizations similarly represented division, not unity, within the San Francisco business community; small-scale businessmen organized the Municipal League in 1901 for the express purpose of mediating between the big business dominated Employers’ Association and an array of striking unions that shut down restaurants, bakeries, local transportation, and the docks. The Employers’ Association rejected the offer. At the same time, small businessmen in San Francisco joined forces with powerful labor groups to oppose cheap Chinese labor. In addition to individual membership in the Pacific Coast Anti-Coolie Association, employers organized in the Associated Boot and Shoe Manufacturers provided financial support to the Boot and Shoemakers White Labor League. Small cigar manufacturers jointly promoted a white label campaign with their organized workers.
After establishing that different organizational affiliations emerged among businessmen in Cincinnati and San Francisco, Citizen Employers turns to an exploration of the ideologies or class attitudes expressed by these organized business groups. This second stage, comprising chapters 3 and 4, presumes that employers in both cities drew from a common “republican repertoire.” This republican repertoire, grounded in the producer ethic of the mid-nineteenth century, served as a “tool kit” of ideas and attitudes that employers selectively adapted to meet their city-specific situations. Haydu finds that Cincinnati and San Francisco businessmen made different selections from this common tool kit. These different selections produced different business-class identities in the two cities. Cincinnati employers constructed a class identity that drew heavily on republican ideas of the common good. They celebrated individual rights and duties, claimed to be nonpartisan and above class, and asserted that the interests of business and the interests of the city were one and the same. This ideology of “business citizenship” was not, Haydu asserts, an expression of middle- and upper-class liberalism. In contrast to liberalism’s laissez-faire separation of business and government, Cincinnati businessmen embraced civic leadership and a unity of interests between business and government.
Whereas Cincinnati employers crafted an identity in opposition to the class of artisan producers, San Francisco employers melded this republican notion into an idea of a “virtuous middle class” of white labor and local businessmen standing between “Asian hordes and rapacious corporations” (p. 112). They also adapted republican fear of tyrannical power to oppose economic tyranny in the form of monopoly power. Thus, San Francisco employers’ “practical corporatism” represented a class-based identity in which organized business accepted organized labor as an essential actor in the public arena. Neither group presumed the sole right to speak for the public good. Instead, the public interest “was best served when both sides were organized, had levelheaded leaders, and worked out their differences through peaceful negotiations” (p. 88).