Harvard's tradition of long-view pioneering in education is not a war-time casualty. The same intellectual spark that gave birth to the country's first case system and school for public administration has flared up again, despite the obstacles of collegiate conversion-to-war. Though only five months old, The Harvard Trade Union Plan, an educational experiment which is based on recognition of the major role labor will play in helping to settle post-war problems, has excited wider general interest than any educational project undertaken in many years.
Fully realizing that a successful relationship between labor and management is going to be the first essential in dealing with the difficulties that will confront the nation after the war, fourteen labor union leaders, selected by their unions, and representing a variety of trades, attended the first classes of the nine months course in the early morning of last September 30. They came directly from the factories and the shops, leaving their jobs as mechanics, glaziers, electricians and clothing workers. One of them held a degree of Master of Law, another had quit school at the age of 12.
All had the same experience of serving as trade union executives. They were determined to make the most of this venture which, like the Harvard's Littauer School of Public Administration and Neiman Fellows in Journalism, reaches far beyond the established tradition of university professional education.
Like the Neiman Fellowships, the Trade Union Fellowships offer "in-service" training to men who are on leave of absence. Fundamentally, however, the Trade Union Fellows have more in common with the Littauer School or the Business School, because these men are all preparing for positions of administrative responsibility. This is significant for a real understanding of the plan for, although there is a considerable demand by unions for specialists and technicians, the Harvard Trade Union Plan has a broader aim, the development of administrators rather than technical experts. With this goal in view, the unions were urged to pick men of the executive and leader type when the Trade Union Fellows were selected. They were asked to put the emphasis on ability rather than formal schooling.
Men of Ability
In a report issued last month, the Faculty men in charge of the plan expressed complete satisfaction with the union's judgment in picking their representatives. "Certainly the men are of the executive and leader type," this report states," and their ability gives them a promising future in the labor movement....The quality of the class work done by the Trade Union Fellows has been of a high order. Although the unions were urged to select prospective men of affairs rather than men of the scholar type, the men have shown excellent capacity to handle book material. Their industrial background has stood them in good stead in class discussions and they are showing up particularly well in courses which they are taking with students who lack a similar industrial background.
Impetus From Union
Several critics have made the point that Harvard is doing the union movement a great service through this plan, giving the impression that it is a one-sided affair. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only are the expenses of the Fellows and half of their tuition paid by the unions, but the original impetus and idea for the plan came form the trade unions. Although the idea was the conceived by the unions in 1941, it was only after months of planning and consultation on both sides that President Conant, in January, 1942, gave his approval and active steps were taken to launch the plan. Important groundwork was provided by Sumner H. Slichter, Lamont University professor, who, in the labor-management seminars he has conducted for several years, has brought labor leaders and industrial executives together for week-end discussions of industrial labor relations.
The important first steps were taken in preliminary conversations designed to explore the possibilities of the idea. These conversations, in late November and early December, 1941, were held with a few heads of international unions, including President Dubinsky of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, President Zaritzky, of the Hatters' Union, President Brown of the Electrical Worker's Union, and other prominent labor leaders. It was revealed through these conversations that union leaders had been giving careful consideration to the problems of developing trained executives and that their ideas were, in many respects, far advanced.
So much promise of interest and support of the plan by Labor was apparent in these early conversations that in mid-December, 1941, James Healy (at the time a Teaching Fellow in Economics and now with the War Labor Board) was sent on an extensive field trip to talk with union heads in Philadelphia, Washington, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Detroit, Cleveland, Akron, and other cities. He also gathered background material on scores of strikes, some routine, some spectacular, and including the nationally publicized Allis-Chalmers layoff of defense production workers in 1941. At a few points no interest was shown, but most of the unions expressed their willingness to cooperate. Not until the ground had been fully prepared through this extensive field work was the project put before President Conant, in January, 1942.
The president, recognizing the significance of the project, did not hesitate. With his approval the decision was made to start the experiment in September of that year. With the effective cooperation of the faculties of the Business School, the Economics Department, and the Littauer School, the hoped-for, broader approach to trade union administration is being attempted. The influence of this triumvirate arrangement is readily seen in the broad make-up of the curriculum offered to the Fellows.
Three Main Courses