lazywebs: The labor record of Ohio's James M. Cox?

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In 1920, my third-great uncle James M. Cox, was the Democratic candidate for President, with FDR as his running mate. I've just found that his campaign's equivalent of Dreams From My Father is available through Project Gutenberg - The Progressive Democracy of James M. Cox, written by his secretary, Charles E. Morris. It includes some rather glowing bits on Cox's actions as Governor of Ohio from 1913-1920 with regards to labor:

It is only necessary to get a comprehensive view of Governor Cox's record with respect to labor troubles to tell the plain story of what he has done. He had scarce taken hold as Governor in 1913 when a strike broke out in the great rubber plants of Akron. It seemed to have been fomented by members of the Industrial Workers of the World, but it drew in its train
thousands upon thousands of other workers until the great plants were practically idle. In Akron, where a heterogenous collection of industrial workers dwell, idleness was a potent factor in fomenting disorder. The normal course of affairs would have been an attempt to operate the plants with strike breakers under guard, provocative acts upon both sides, and finally, recourse to an armed militia to quell the disorder after the inevitable bloodshed had ensued. Although new in executive experience, Governor Cox took another course. He sent trained and trusted investigators to Akron who learned the facts and reported to him accurately upon the situation, including also the grievances of the toilers. At the same time he gave warning to the local authorities that they preserve a strict neutrality in their dealing with the contending forces, and he uttered a solemn warning that the laws must be respected, assuring those of both contending factions that public opinion within the city would speedily ascertain the right and wrong of the controversy. And so it proved to be. But learning there were abuses in the plants that needed correction the Governor gave his assent to an investigation by a legislative committee through the helpful publicity of which all interests were induced to redress certain grievances. It gave an object lesson not only to Akron but to all the state. It taught even the turbulent element that only harm could come through infraction of the law and through disrespect for rights of person and property. The remainder of the story is that I. W. W. disturbers have more sterile soil in Ohio to cultivate than in any of the states about it.

Now, this is clearly a skewed version of things, coming as it does from campaign literature. But how skewed? Are there sources on the 1913 rubber strike and 1919 steel strike known to be relatively unbiased?

So far, the most detailed alternate account of the rubber strike that I've come up with seems like it has the possibility of its own skew - Foner's History of the Labor Movement in the United States vol. 4: The Industrial Workers of the World agrees that Cox refused the Mayor of Akron's request to send the National Guard out to protect the factories, but goes on to discuss a "reign of terror" by police and vigilantes against the strikers that Cox paid no heed to:

Although the strikers protested to Governor Cox that the city officials had "arbitrarily abridged all civic rights of the residents of Akron who happen to be participants in the strike," the Governor did nothing to half the mounting reign of terror. Thus encouraged, vigilantes swung into action. . . The strikers wired Governor Cox and asked for protection against a "Mob of the Rich," but once again their protest was ignored. A similar protest against imported gunmen from Pittsburgh went unheeded.

Foner notes that the Green Investigating Committee appointed by Governor Cox "acknowledged that most of the strikers' grievances were justified. It condemned the [Taylor] 'speeding-up system' as 'fraught with danger' and recommended its abolition. . . But after justifying the strike, the Committee exonerated the employers for their refusal to deal with workers," charging the IWW with violent and immoral tactics, but ignoring the violence on the part of the police.

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"Yes, /that/ Cox."

And yes, this means that Anne Cox Chambers, majority stakeholder of the Cox media empire, with a personal net worth of half again that of Rupert Murdoch, is related to me. My first cousin thrice removed, to be specific, but I don't think they've acknowledged my branch of the family in the past, oh, 87 years.

Apparently, she's been spending her weekends knocking on doors for the Obama campaign in Georgia. Not bad...


After the Maine caucus yesterday, Obama is down to only trailing by 27 delegates....I wonder if he can pick up all of Edward's camp...that would leave him only 1 behind.

Progressives in both parties

Progressives in both parties had what I think of as a Bill-Cosby attitude toward labor: "I don't want justice, I want quiet!" Many of them had genuine concerns about the conditions of working people, but they also had a deep fear and dislike of raucous politics of any stripe. For most such progressives, independent labor unions certainly amounted to raucous politics--and the IWW, well...!

From what little I know about Cox (and it is very little), he thought of himself in a sort of Teddy Roosevelt-style position ranged against the excesses of both capital and labor. Hence some of the interest in discovering the facts on the ground and coming to a solution that was "just" for both parties. (One obvious flaw with that position is that it equates the power of capital and labor, a common problem with "centrist" approaches that value compromise for its own sake.) Thus he was willing to call in an investigative commission and to admit that conditions for workers were bad in the rubber industry. But as far as action goes, note that the striking rubber workers didn't achieve any of their demands as a result of his intervention. I'll note that the campaign biography doesn't say anything about how the strike turned out!

It's a depressing fact of turn-of-the-century labor relations that this ranks Cox as a progressive governor on labor relations. For it's true, he didn't just call out the national guard to support the owners' efforts to bring in strikebreakers. That made him better than most state governors. But remember that right through the Great Depression, the default political attitude in the United States in both parties was quite rabidly anti-union. Thus it's both accurate to say that Cox was generally more sympathetic to the working people than most politicians and to say that he had a mediocre labor record at best.

...And let's not discuss the Great Steel Strike of 1919. It was an unmitigated disaster for the Amalgamated Association (the union organizing in steel), in Ohio cities like Youngstown as much as elsewhere.

For what it's worth, I think Eric Foner is a reliable source. He's one of the greatest post-war historians; his books on the early Republican Party, slavery and emancipation are landmarks of (good) revisionist history; and his 1988 book on Reconstruction is the first decent treatment of the era since W.E.B. DuBois's classic treatment.