Whilst many corporations attempted to influence school education, many more directed ‘educational’ efforts at their employees, who were captive audiences. Ninety five percent of large companies surveyed in 1947 approved of the idea of employee education and in the following years many large corporations including Johnson & Johnson, IBM, Westinghouse, US Steel and DuPont developed educational programs for workers or supervisors.
As with the general public it was assumed that undesirable worker attitudes towards business were related to their poor grasp of economic ‘principles’, in particular the following six economic principles:
It was concluded from surveys that those who are ignorant of these economic principles were more likely to be dissatisfied at work and more likely to embrace ‘collectivist’ proposals. They were also more likely to favour price controls, limits on profits, limits on salaries, government ownership and stronger unions than those who were ‘well-informed’. Company-based economic courses were therefore run to better inform workers and foremen so that they would have better attitudes towards business as well as more interest in company problems and working to solve them, ‘increased productivity; improved worker morale, and better citizenship’.
The subjects most frequently covered in employee economic education courses were justifications for profits as supplying incentive, capital investment and job security; the ideology of competition and how it ensures ‘the consumer is boss’; and the ‘proper’ and therefore limited role of government.
Apart from courses, companies used magazines, bulletin boards, pamphlets, meetings and advertisements to get their point across in the belief that by supplying information they could change workers attitudes.
By 1951 one out of every five large companies was giving formal courses in economics and the majority of employee publications were ‘carrying some material on freedom’. Their efforts were supplemented by those of educational and business organizations such as NAM and the programs of larger companies were often distributed to smaller companies. A 1952 ORC report noted that ‘systematic company training in economics stand out as one of the fastest growing and most significant management developments in recent years’.
A 1954 American Management Association (AMA) report found that employee education was found in almost all American industrial companies. It noted that ‘employee education’ and ‘economic education’ had ‘become virtually synonymous to many people.’ It also noted that some companies used the terms ‘propaganda’ and ‘economic education’ interchangeably and many were open about their wanting ‘to influence our people to think ‘right’’ and wanting ‘to change their thinking’. Others were more circumspect, saying only that they wanted to present the pertinent ‘facts’ so that employees could draw their own conclusions.
General Electric, when it introduced its own Economic Education Program, recognized the huge influence that employers could have through their own employees:
As employers in this country, businessmen are directly associated with more than 60,000,000 people, more than a third of our population. If these sixty millions are made aware of the economic facts of life, we can be sure that they will, in turn, influence the thinking and knowledge of at least another third of the population.
Some companies confined their ‘education’ to economics believing that with an understanding of economics, as taught by the company, ‘they would quite naturally change their political and social thinking; thus management’s basic goal would be attained.’ Others dealt more explicitly with social and political issues.
DuPont developed a course that was adopted and distributed to other companies by NAM entitled ‘How Our Business System Operates’ (HOBSO) which involved three 90 minute discussion sessions with groups of 20 employees on company time as follows:
|Session One:||Our American Business System (60 minutes)
Accomplishments of Our System (30 minutes)
|Session Two:||The Importance of Competition (60 minutes)
Individual Freedoms Under Our System (30 minutes)
|Session Three:||Proposed Changes in Our System (45 minutes)
Our Company —Its Story (45 minutes)
The course taught ideology rather than economics or company operations and emphasized the achievements of free enterprise whilst emphasizing the threat of socialism. It stressed the importance of profits and competition and economic freedom and attacked government controls.
One critic stated: ‘HOBSO would be all right if its users were honest with themselves and with their employees about what it is. It is not an open or free discussion. It is directed, and the conference leader should say, ‘I’m going to tell you these things,’ not say, ‘We want your opinions,’ and then reject them or be selective in the opinions he accepts.’
NAM trained personnel from companies using the HOBSO package as discussion leaders and provided the materials including visual aids. The course contained ‘no difficult-to-understand economic principles.’ By the middle of the 1950s more than 500 firms had participated in training sessions on HOBSO and its successor HOBSO II. This was despite it costing the average firm an estimated million dollars to run the program in the workplace, including the cost of employee attendance during company time.
DuPont also conducted attitude surveys, plant tours for the community, foreman visits to headquarters, talks by key executives, and produced news letters, in its efforts to foster ‘improved understanding of business and economic fundamentals’. Its program of propaganda was targeted at its employees, customers and shareholders whom it believed ‘could reason rightly provided they had the information, facts and opinions necessary to start their thinking.’
Stanolind Oil and Gas Company also adopted the 90 minute discussion format in its workplace program entitled ‘Let’s Talk It Over’, which was mandatory for all employees, rank and file:
... we had become concerned over the growing drift toward socialism apparent in this country, and the apathy which too many Americans had assumed in connection with social, political and economic thinking. This course was devised as a tool to thwart that apathy and to stimulate greater interest on the part of Stanolind people in civic affairs.
Stanolind decided that since its target was socialism it would start with a discussion of the threat of communism, the tendency toward socialism in the US and how further government control would lead to socialism. By starting this way rather than launching immediately into a criticism of socialism the company felt that the course would be relieved ‘of any aspect of company bias.’ The use of college professors as discussion leaders also reinforced the supposed impartiality of the course.
The course would then go on to discuss the ‘American way of life’, representative government and how ‘individual thought and action influence law-making’ and ‘how most Americans are capitalists in one way or another’ and ‘why our standard of living is so high’ as well as freedoms provided by the American system. Accompanying materials for employees to take home included booklets, ‘If you were Born in Russia’; ‘the Miracle of America’ produced by the Advertising Council; and ‘Good Citizen’ produced by the conservative think tank, The Heritage Foundation.
Sears Roebuck also produced its own economic education program which included a series of films and involved the training of 2,600 meeting leaders. In 1952, these leaders conducted 71,000 meetings to put Sears employees through the course, which consisted of three hour sessions at weekly intervals, at a total cost of $6 million.
Republic Steel Corporation aimed its economic education program at the 6000 supervisors working for the company rather than the 70,000 employees. It decided this was more cost effective as supervisors were ‘likely to be more vocal than a rank-and-file worker in civic and community affairs.’ Supervisors were tested before the course and questions that they most often got ‘wrong’ were ‘singled out for corrective emphasis during the lessons.’ The course consisted of fifteen booklets and fifteen hour and half guided group discussions. It was given legitimacy by the involvement of the University of Chicago so that ‘Employees were less suspect of company slant in the material than they might have been had they heard the company’s word alone.’ The resulting increase in scores for ‘economic knowledge’ and for ‘economic opinion’ amongst supervisors led the Industrial Relations Center of the University of Chicago to adapt it for use by other companies ‘at a price that even small ones can afford.’
It was not only blue collar workers who were subjected to indoctrination via workplace education. William Whyte describes in The Organization Man, how young university graduates were trained to be able to fit into the organization. For example the General Electric program provided trainees, often engineering graduates, with intensive live-in training including DuPont’s HOBSO program.
The Opinion Research Corporation (ORC) surveyed the workers before and after doing the Sears Roebuck course. After the course the percent who agreed that ‘the most practical way for workers to increase their standard of living’ was for ‘all workers to produce more’ increased to 77%. Eighty seven percent agreed that shorter hours had resulted from greater productive efficiency rather than union demands, compared with 69% before the course. Their view of capitalists had also changed. The course managed to convince the workers that most Americans are actually capitalists. Seventy four percent (compared with 19% before the course) agreed that most capitalists in the US are ‘ordinary citizens who have savings and life insurance’ and 94% agreed that ‘workers, management and stockholders are all really partners in the business. What hurts one group hurts the others also.’
Ninety six percent agreed that ‘One of the best things about our American business system is that generally speaking people get paid fairly in terms of their ability and how hard they work’. Also 99% disagreed with the ‘Marxist’ statement that ‘the fairest economic system is one that takes from each according to his ability and gives to each according to his needs’ compared with 74 percent before the course. And, according to the ORC, the tie between a citizen’s personal freedom and the preservation of the free-market system was strengthened.
Other courses were equally successful in changing worker attitudes, according to the surveys. ORC did a before and after survey of workers undertaking a ‘Freedom’ course at the Connecticut Light & Power Company. More than 80 percent agreed, after the course, that ‘We are slowly losing important freedoms here in America’ and that ‘price control cannot be put in effect without affecting the average man’s freedom.’
Public relations experts went to a lot of effort to ensure employee communications were effective. For example in 1960 the ORC published a report on ‘Word Impact for Management’s Communications’ which acknowledged the power of words and advised employers on which one’s should be used. For example the ORC tested the term ‘Capitalism’ on workers and found that ‘Free Enterprise’ was more likely to have a favourable connotation. Words were tested for their familiarity, understandability and emotional impact.
Prominent industrial psychologist Morris Vitelli was less sanguine than the ORC about the achievements of these programmes. He noted in his 1953 book Motivation and Morale in Industry that ‘much remains to be done in establishing the relationships between economic indoctrination and attitude toward the economic system on the one hand, and net changes in ideology, morale, productivity, and the action of individuals as citizens of a commonwealth’. In his discussion of workplace propaganda Vitelli explained that ‘an indirect or disguised approach to moulding attitudes and opinions is more effective than propaganda which is easily recognized as such.’
In his chapter on ‘Moulding and Modifying Attitudes’ Vitelli considered whether it is better to give both sides of an issue or just one side in order to change workers attitudes. Research suggested that better educated people were more influenced by a presentation that appeared to be balanced than less educated people so he recommended a one-sided program for rank-and-file workers and a two-sided program for supervisors and technical personnel.