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The Paternalist Alphabet

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In the 1910s, as workers around the nation were organizing and striking with greater militancy, employers and the government finally began to pay attention to their plight. That certainly didn’t mean that employers would accept unions. But it did mean that employers began seeking ways to siphon off discontent before it led to worker activism. One of the biggest issues in many industries was health and safety. Working conditions were terrible throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries. By 1911, states began passing workers’ compensation laws that forced employers into a limited liability for the workers who were injured or killed on the job (health issues were still uncovered). Many employers supported these laws, not because they cared about workers dying on the job, but because after 1900 workers’ lawsuits against companies were increasingly successful and costly.

So many employers, especially in dangerous industries like mining and logging, began implementing company safety programs. These were usually limited, sought to blame workers for their own accidents, and kept control over their implementation firmly in the hands of corporate managers. But they were still better than what existed before. These programs were part of the broader phenomenon of company unions and corporate paternalism that arose in the wake of Ludlow, when John D. Rockefeller Jr. took unprecedented public criticism for the way his company had treated workers. These programs often had a cultural side to them. And thus I present you an alphabet of safety prepared for workers by the American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO) in 1915. I am taking this from Alan Derickson, Workers’ Health Workers’ Democracy: The Western Miners’ Struggle, 1891-1925

A is for accident which we try to avoid
B is for bandage which should be employed
C is for care and carelessness too
D is for damage which from the latter ensue
E is for eyes which goggles protect
F is for feet you must not neglect
G is for ginmill which we do abhor
H is for habit throw it out the door
I is for insurance which you do collect
J is for Jay who insurance does neglect
K is for kindness which cannot be bought
L is for laborer which ‘sistance is sought
M is for manager whose friendship you make
N is for noodle which you must not break
O is for optimist be glad your alive
P is for pension for which all do strive
Q is for quarrels which we do not like
R is for ringleader a good man to spike
S is for superintendent not a bad guy
T is for town to keep it spotless we try
U is for united which we all strive to be
V is for villain who will not agree
W is for willing this our men we do find
X is for xylophone played by some at night time
Y is for yap who always is late
Z is for zealous for this you get great

Subtle, I know. Between pushing blame for accidents on workers in (c), attacking alcohol in (g) and (h) and reminding workers and probably themselves that they were great guys in (m) and (s), this is quite the blunt instrument. Also, the writers of this couldn’t quite figure (x) out to where it could be even remotely relevant.

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