Tuesday, August 25, 2015

A look back: President's Mediation Commission

While recently researching Justice Frankfurter of the U.S. Supreme Court, I discovered that before he became an associate justice, he was appointed almost a century ago to a body known as the President's Mediation Commission. This represented a partial federal response to two vital aspects of wartime labor policy: 1) the spreading wave of strikes which interfered with the production of goods deemed vital to the war effort, and 2) the growth of labor radicalism associated with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Samuel Gompers, the president of the American Federation of Labor (AFL and later AFL-CIO), feared both the growth of the IWW and the ensuing vigilantism, which threatened AFL unions. Apparently, Gompers desired a federal policy that would simultaneously curb the IWW and protect "legitimate" trade unions. Gompers urged Washington to form a special presidential commission to investigate labor-capital relations. In August 1917, the secretary of labor convinced President Woodrow Wilson of this policy and a five-person commission was created. The secretary desired a commission that would effectively mediate the substantive issues causing labor discontent and would also eliminate the IWW. More influential than any of the five suggested commission members, was Felix Frankfurter. Officially appointed by President Wilson, the President's Mediation Commission operated on the basis of guidelines set by Frankfurter. Those guidelines recommended the promotion of AFL-style trade unionism, the elimination of subversvie IWW locals, and the encouragement of industrial democracy. The Commission began its formal investigations and hearings later that year. Its members later traveled to various industries and investigated their disputes, studying labor discontentment. The following year, the Commission presented its findings and recommendations to the President, which largely followed the original Frankfurter guidelines and which were subsequently published as a special bulletin by the Department of Labor. See more at Guide to the Papers of the President's Mediation Commission on microfilm collection number: 5751 mf-- http://rmc.library.cornell.edu and Report of President's Mediation Commission-- http://bit.ly/1Ubu2Kw