There was a time when the mainstream trade union movement confined itself to union concerns—a union contract that guaranteed a decent standard of living, and in turn for a negotiated agreement with the corporation, guaranteed labor stability and productivity. Large corporations learned quickly, as did the leadership of General Electric in the 1930’s, that signing with the union, even as in their case a Communist led union, meant the opportunity for both profits and economic growth. The stockholders were more than pleased, and the workers represented by the union achieved their rather minimal aims.
The unions accepted the corporation as the essential institution necessary for economic growth and prosperity, and its leadership understood well that Marxian oriented radicalism threatened their membership’s own freedom and growing higher standard of living. Gerard Swope, the President of General Electric in the 30’s- and himself author of a highly publicized plan for a corporatist reorganization of America- the so-called Swope Plan- rejoiced when the Communist controlled United Electrical Workers/CIO organized his plants and won the work force’s allegiance. “If you can’t get along with these fellows and settle matters,” he told one of GE’s Vice-Presidents, “there’s something wrong with you.” As for the Communist union he and his staff had to deal with, he remarked that they were “well led; the discipline good.” The CP union chief, Julius Emspak, returned the compliment by calling Swope an “enlightened” employer, who understood that “industry would have to recognize” that union leaders might eventually even have to sit on the corporation’s board of directors.
In turn for labor peace, Swope even supported a thirty-hour work week and a Federal minimum wage. His goal was to integrate the work force into the system, and make it a patriotic defender of capitalism; not an antagonist. The current AFL-CIO leadership is far removed from the type of leaders who built the industrial union movement in the 1930’s, and whom Swope could easily work with.