The Personal Relation in Industry

by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. New York: Boni and Liveright. 1924. 12mo. x+149 pp. $2.00.
THE addresses which make up the bulk of this volume reveal Mr. Rockefeller at work to improve industrial relations without damaging the social order which gives his powers so much scope. What he has to say is less important than the fact that he says it. Men of affairs will forgive a Rockefeller no end of idealism.
His message, old but none the worse for that, may be summarized in a paragraph. Coöperation through company unions and employee-representation. Intelligent welfare-work. Fair play and good wages. Good housing. Encouragement of stock-ownership among employees. Partnership of capital and labor, both in production and in community development.
Sound doctrine for the most part, and if all industrialists were to follow Mr. Rockefeller there, many an industrial community would be happier — for a time. However, the evolution of industrial society would not stop there. No industrial constitution can popularize a straw boss or make up for the continued absence of the real boss from the shop. Enthusiasm for the group, though better than no enthusiasm at all, is not quite as satisfying as enthusiasm for the work. Collective pride in output does not altogether make up for the vanishing of personal pride in output. Large-scale business, try though it will, can hardly recapture for rank-and-file workers opportunity for the exercise of that creative instinct which is the taproot of joy in work. Lacking that outlet, human nature is bound to explore all possible substitutes, even those upon which ‘Verboten’ has been posted by dead hands.
Mr. Rockefeller accepts the industrial clan as contrasted with the industrial proletariat of Socialism and the industrial guilds of the craft unions. But the company union, though its constitution be ever so long, is a feeble forced growth by the side of trades-unionism with its deep rootage in time and its broad spread over space. And you cannot imagine a man dying for a company union, as men have died for Socialism. How, then, shall the company union prevail against these other movements that pay court to the interests and enthusiasms of workingmen? It can do so only here and there by spurts, when enlightened industrial leaders have time and money to spend in creating isles of temporary safety in the face of the inevitable.
To the specific Rockefeller programme, advanced in such good faith and liberal spirit, small exception can be taken; but it is in order to protest against the author’s tacit acceptance of a common fallacy. The fallacy is that industrial peace can be achieved by short cuts, disregarding history, politics, education, invention, and the evolution of ideas among a people. The application of Mr. Rockefeller’s programme, or something like it, to large industrial groups no doubt would hasten a social progress which proceeds more by trial and error than by plan. But even if his precepts were to he followed slavishly by all contemporary industrialists, — which will not be the case, — the resulting order would be but a passing phase, preparatory perhaps to another order less to the author’s liking.