Journal Article

Religion, Human Relations, and Union Avoidance in the 1950s: The Electrical Industry’s Southern Strategy and Its Limits

Elizabeth Fones-Wolf and Ken Fones-Wolf

in Enterprise & Society: The International Journal of Business History

Published on behalf of Business History Conference

Volume 13, issue 1, pages 154-185
Published in print March 2012 | ISSN: 1467-2227
Published online August 2011 | e-ISSN: 1467-2235 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/es/khr041
Religion, Human Relations, and Union Avoidance in the 1950s: The Electrical Industry’s Southern Strategy and Its Limits

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Historians have become increasingly aware of how religion dovetailed with businessmen's goals of promoting free-enterprise ideologies and creating an anti-statist and anti-union political culture. But business expected more from religion; many employers believed that emphasizing spirituality could help them win community support and worker loyalty and avoid unions. When the electrical manufacturing industry began to move South after World War II, key employers had already witnessed the role that religion played in helping defeat the CIO's Southern Organizing Campaign. However, they balked at borrowing the overtly racist and reactionary evangelicalism that southern employers had effectively used. Instead, they looked for a more moderate religious model that would blend with their growing interest in human relations. They found it in Reverend George Heaton, an ordained Southern Baptist minister who had begun counseling employers during the 1930s. Heaton emphasized the sacred imperative driving good human relations and rejected the “fetish” of collective bargaining that he believed robbed individual freedom and the personal relationships that created harmonious workplace communities. As GE, Westinghouse, Magnavox, and Singer moved to the South, they all hired Heaton to be “minister” to their employees. This strategy had its limits, however, as this article will demonstrate using case studies of organizing drives in Rome, Georgia, and Greeneville, Tennessee. Nevertheless, Heaton was an important and understudied bridge between earlier paternalistic uses of religion and more modern Christian human relations.

Journal Article.  12681 words. 

Subjects: Business History

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