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Citizen Employers

Citizen Employers: Business Communities and Labor in Cincinnati and San Francisco, 1870–1916

Jeffrey Haydu
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press,
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Citizen Employers
    Book Description:

    The exceptional weakness of the American labor movement has often been attributed to the successful resistance of American employers to unionization and collective bargaining. However, the ideology deployed against labor's efforts to organize at the grassroots level has received less attention. In Citizen Employers, Jeffrey Haydu compares the very different employer attitudes and experiences that guided labor-capital relations in two American cities, Cincinnati and San Francisco, in the period between the Civil War and World War I. His account puts these attitudes and experiences into the larger framework of capitalist class formation and businessmen's collective identities.

    Cincinnati and San Francisco saw dramatically different developments in businessmen's class alignments, civic identities, and approach to unions. In Cincinnati, manufacturing and commercial interests joined together in a variety of civic organizations and business clubs. These organizations helped members overcome their conflicts and identify their interests with the good of the municipal community. That pervasive ideology of "business citizenship" provided much of the rationale for opposing unions. In sharp contrast, San Francisco's businessmen remained divided among themselves, opted to side with white labor against the Chinese, and advocated treating both unions and business organizations as legitimate units of economic and municipal governance.

    Citizen Employers closely examines the reasons why these two bourgeoisies, located in comparable cities in the same country at the same time, differed so radically in their degree of unity and in their attitudes toward labor unions, and how their views would ultimately converge and harden against labor by the 1920s. With its nuanced depiction of civic ideology and class formation and its application of social movement theory to economic elites, this book offers a new way to look at employer attitudes toward unions and collective bargaining. That new approach, Haydu argues, is equally applicable to understanding challenges facing the American labor movement today.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6162-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Jeffrey Haydu
    (pp. 1-26)

    Businesspeople are no more fond of taxes than the rest of us. Their objections, however, are anything but personal. “It’s dumb to tax investment capital,” one Connecticut manufacturer recently complained when the legislature opened the door to property taxes on machinery. The state is “discouraging us from hiring new people,” another employer argued, and “preventing us from being more profitable.” “We prefer they tax the egg and not the goose.” Public officials often agree. Pennsylvania governor Edward Rendell boasted in 2006 that reducing business taxes benefited the state as a whole. “For nearly four years now, we’ve led the way...


    • [Part I Introduction]
      (pp. 27-34)

      The introduction set a low threshold for “class formation”: an alignment between collective action or cultural practices, on one side, and economic hierarchies on the other. Sociologists and historians routinely make some broad distinctions between more and less privileged groups in a given era’s economic structure—recognizing that the analytically useful dividing lines will vary from one time and place to another. In late-nineteenth-century American cities, a key distinction is between those who worked for wages, mostly in manual employment, and those who earned a living through self-employment or the control of property. These broad categories encompass a wide array...

      (pp. 35-60)

      The dilemmas of capitalist class formation are well displayed in post–Civil War Cincinnati. Individual firms, generally of modest size, could hardly discipline markets, train future workers, or fend off unions single-handedly. Cooperation did not come easily, however. Efforts to join forces were regularly undermined by competitive rivalries, status conflicts, and mutual indifference. At the same time, in smaller firms, personal ties to employees, together with a persistent producer ideology, helped sustain cross-class solidarities. This chapter examines these dilemmas and then traces the social realignments in late-nineteenth-century Cincinnati that broadened horizontal solidarities among businessmen and frayed vertical ones with workers....

      (pp. 61-82)

      San Francisco in the summer of 1907 was worlds away from Cincinnati. Employers in most sectors recognized and bargained with unions. That summer, even the metal trades—one of the most resolutely open shop industries in Cincinnati—fell into line. There were holdouts, notably Patrick Calhoun’s United Railway Co., which waged a violent battle with streetcar operators from May through July. Despite the efforts of San Francisco’s Citizens’ Alliance to rally local capital behind Calhoun’s open shop stance, leading business associations refused to go along; the Civic League instead joined with the Labor Council to try to mediate. The political...


    • [Part II Introduction]
      (pp. 83-90)

      There is a familiar image of the Gilded Age capitalist. His stomach is round, his watch chain is gold, and his God is Mammon. In defense of his stature and wealth, he invokes the basic tenets of laissez-faire liberalism. That ideology erects a thick wall between economy and state. The government has minimal responsibilities, the most important of which are preserving order and protecting property. Within the economy, there should be maximum freedom for the pursuit of individual self-interest, disciplined only by the laws of supply and demand. Under this beneficent regime, ample stomach and gold watch chain are just...

      (pp. 91-111)

      At Cincinnati’s 1882 Industrial Exposition, ward residents constructed parade floats to celebrate “the Queen of the West.” The Twenty-first Ward’s contribution captured several key features of the city’s history and self-image. Labeled “Paris of America,” the float arranged beer kegs and packing crates in the form of a music stand; from atop the kegs and crates, a giant pig wielded his conducting baton.¹ Today, this might seem an odd juxtaposition. For late-nineteenth-century Cincinnati businessmen, though, packing pork and performing music were parts of a single script. The discourse of business citizenship celebrated their contributions to economic growth, artistic excellence, and...

      (pp. 112-132)

      Speaking to dinner guests at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club in early 1908, Stanford University president David Starr Jordan lent his authority to a view widely shared among his business audience. “The coolies that come from the class of the homeless laborers of Japan [and] China . . . can not for the most part be made free men and free citizens.” Assimilation might eventually occur, but at great cost, because “the final result is to lower the average of the better race.”¹ On the subject of white labor, by contrast, the Commonwealth Club appears to have been unusually progressive. It...


    • [Part III Introduction]
      (pp. 133-144)

      Part 2 focused on businessmen’s collective identities and civic ideologies. Part 3 shows how these identities and ideologies crossed institutional borders. For San Francisco, where relations between capital and labor in city politics and the workplace mirrored one another, the empirical question is whether businessmen applied a single model of class representation across a range of industrial and political issues. For Cincinnati, where businessmen nourished their self-image as leading citizens in civic clubs and municipal uplift, far from workaday class relations, the question is more pointed. Did Cincinnati’s employers apply their standards for good citizenship to work? For example, did...

    • 5 FROM POLITICS TO WORK: Good Citizens and Model Employers in Cincinnati
      (pp. 145-177)

      In praising Julius Dexter as an “ideal citizen” of Cincinnati, his fellow Commercial Club members found in his devotion to the public good “the very life of the Republic and the hope of its perpetuity.” They added that Dexter was “a man who did not have one conscience for private matters and another for public . . . affairs.”¹ Such consistency in the application of moral codes counted as a virtue among Cincinnati’s leading citizens. And in their thinking about “private” matters of work, employers applied the same all-purpose cultural script they cultivated in public affairs. I support this claim...

    • 6 FROM WORK TO POLITICS: Representing Class in San Francisco
      (pp. 178-202)

      San Francisco’s civic leaders launched yet another charter reform campaign in 1910. The agenda of the Charter Reform Convention included familiar Progressive proposals, such as improved procedures for initiatives, referenda, and recalls; nonpartisan elections; and greater government control over city franchises. A Committee of Nine took charge, composed mainly of prominent business figures like Harris Weinstock of the Commonwealth Club and C. H. Bentley from the Chamber of Commerce. Two committee members, however, Andrew Gallagher and Walter Macarthur, represented labor. Their inclusion signaled the need to win union support in the upcoming election. That tactical consideration, in turn, supported a...

    (pp. 203-216)

    This book identified sharp contrasts between two cities in businessmen’s solidarity, civic discourse, and views of labor. Each part of the book took up the corresponding puzzle. How did businessmen with varied interests achieve substantial unity in Cincinnati while their San Francisco counterparts remained divided? Why did these two business communities take republican tradition in such different directions, especially in the ways they distinguished good government, and good citizens, from bad ones? How did public ideologies show up at work, favoring a virulent anti-unionism in Cincinnati (as in most of the United States) and a seemingly un-American accommodation with unions...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 217-238)
  10. Works Cited
    (pp. 239-260)
  11. Index
    (pp. 261-268)