Tim Mason – Class Conflict and Scientific Management in American Industry: Guides to the Literature (1977)

In 1947 the Librarian in charge of the collection of books on ‘industrial relations’ at Princeton University, New Jersey, seems to have come to the conclusion that the sheer volume of new works appearing in this field made it desirable for librarians to compile select bibliographies. A Committee of Industrial Relations Librarians came into existence, in order to enable the members to exchange information about the recent literature. They began to produce a running Exchange Bibliography. At first, the bulk of the work was done by the Princeton librarians, but in time about a dozen university libraries and government agencies came to play an active role.
The result of their labours is one of the most extraordinary bibliographies I have ever seen. Works are listed by topic on mimeographed sheets, which are simply circulated, at irregular but frequent intervals, to all libraries which subscribe. The collection now amounts to 1,634 separate lists, for which a chronological index and a subject index is available. In all, something of the order of 50,000 titles have been listed under an astonishingly complete and highly differentiated set of topic headings. The subject index which I have consulted contains almost 550 different headings (complete with cross-references) under which the literature has been listed by the librarians. No aspect of industrial labour and management policy is too trivial to be included. Aside from all of the obvious topics – strikes, wages, labour law, the structure and function of trade unions, insurance, unemployment, vocational training -there are entries on the employment of blind persons in industry, on the churches and labour, on the problems of small businesses, on ‘industrial relations’, on aspects of sub-contracting, and on industrial espionage. For each entry there is at least one bibliography.
There is a substantial series of bibliographies on the effects of piped music on productivity, and there is even a bibliography of works concerned with the institution of the coffee-break.
One of the many merits of the bibliographies is the meticulous attention paid to ephemeral literature. Articles in journals (some of which are now defunct), pamphlets produced by employers’ associations and trade unions, texts of speeches etc., are all listed, alongside the literary output of the post-war generation of industrial sociologists and management scientists. Furthermore, those who compile the bibliographies have a strong interest in the historical dimension of the subject. All major works on business history and on the history of trade unions are listed from time to time. Even more important in some ways, the older literature is not neglected. The bibliographies produced in the late 1940s and 1950s contain a wealth of references to the literature of the inter-war years.
The bibliographies themselves make both amusing and frightening reading. The way in which the contributing librarians compete with one another, correct each other’s errors and omissions, gives a nice insight into the work-methods and the professional pride of the bibliographer. If Princeton, say, produces a bibliography of hours of work, or on the training of foremen (a very popular subject this – there are dozens of lists on it), one can be quite sure that within a year, Minnesota, Cornell or the US Department of Labor, will be circulating a supplementary list on the same subject, just to keep their colleagues in Princeton (or wherever) on their toes.
It is the contents of the lists which is frightening. While I have found no evidence of political bias in the compilations, and while labour, socialist and trade unions publications are frequently listed, the overwhelming majority of titles in the bibliographies are about scientific management. Indeed the subject catalogue to the bibliography could be entitled ‘500 different ways to avoid strikes and increase productivity’. The bibliographies are a remarkable testament to the fierce, relentless, subtle and comprehensive effort which has been made by management in the USA to contain and co-opt the industrial working class. In their own meticulous and dead-pan way (the lists are select bibliographies, but it is very rare for there to be any comment on the content of a listed publication), the bibliographers have reflected and documented a massive managerial offensive against the rising power of organized labour in the USA since the 1930s. Scholars, writers and government have provided abundant literary and scientific ammunition for this offensive. For example, the items listed concerning the training of supervisory personnel in the techniques of domination in industry, right down to the application of sociological role theory to the ‘management of industrial relations’ are too numerous for any one scholar ever to read in a whole life-time study. And the titles of the articles and books listed themselves pay a grisly eloquent tribute to the ingenuity of the managerial authors.
The bibliographies constitute an absolutely indispensable aid to any historian, economist, or sociologist who is studying the American labour movement or American industry. I have not been able to ascertain whether any British library subscribes to it. Enquiries should be addressed to: Margaret Chaplan, Librarian, Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations, University of Illinois, 504 East Amory Avenue, Champaign, Illinois 61820, USA (don’t forget the zip!).

Mason, Tim, “Class Conflict and Scientific Management in American Industry”, History Workshop 3 (1977), p.81-82.


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