Abstract: "Unlike any city in the world": Employer Organizations, Welfare Capitalism, and the Open Shop Movement in Worcester, Massachusetts, 1885-1925

Chad Pearson


Throughout the first two decades of the twentieth century, major employers in Worcester, Massachusetts, succeeded in minimizing the power of labor unions. Worcester's industrialists adopted a variety of different strategies against organized labor, strikes, and workplace insubordination, including large-scale firings, blacklists, and welfare capitalism. They worked closely together in employer organizations, such as the National Metal Trades Association and the Employer Association of Worcester County, two organizations designed to achieve the "open shop." They were dynamic, keeping close tabs on troublesome workers and sharing information with one another about various managerial theories; they succeeded in keeping unions at a distance because they embraced both carrot and stick strategies. Worcester's employers were not satisfied with simply defeating the regional labor movement and maintaining relative industrial peace. They also advertised the distinctiveness of the city's industrial relations in trade magazines, books, and at national conventions. Members of the city's anti-labor union organizations shamelessly boasted about the superiority of Worcester, calling it "The City of Prosperity." This paper shows the ways that Worcester's powerful and immodest employers helped create an open shop city dissimilar to other industrial centers.