Roger Blough, ‘described as bookish and contemplative’ and ‘unassuming’, a man who had grown up on a farm and started his career as a schoolteacher, was never the same again. Blough later wrote:
‘Never before in the nation’s history have so many forces of the federal government been marshalled against a single American industry… this was the first time any President had been publicly called upon to exercise control – without authority of law – over the prices of an entire industry, and to initiate or participate in a whole series of administrative and legislative actions of a punitive nature, if that control were not accepted’.
It was a turning point in Blough’s life and it seems that he seethed at his humiliation at Kennedy’s hands throughout the rest of the decade. He went on to be a key player in the founding of the most powerful business lobby in the country, the Business Roundtable (BRT). The BRT would make sure that such a back down would never occur again. In future business would stand united in its goals. Kennedy’s Court at Camelot had given rise to a Roundtable of rebellious business knights determined to shape government policy to suit business interests and prevent government from meddling in business affairs.
The success of the BRT and other business coalitions formed during the 1970s and 80s as part of the broader mobilization of business interests make the events described above ‘barely comprehensible’ to people today. Murphy notes: ‘It comes from another world, a world in which unions swung a big stick, business executives suffered under a liberal lash, corporate heads cleared price increases with U.S. presidents, cultural norms decreed that duty should come before profit, and, perhaps most bizarre, a world in which citizens felt confident that the government could direct the U.S. economy… in which government was not the problem but the solution to our problems.’ It was a world in which the President of the United States could denigrate business and put an industry in its place and have his popular approval ratings soar as a result. It was a world that Blough and other business leaders were determined to change and they did.
Blough retired from his position of CEO of US Steel in 1969 and founded the Construction Users Anti-Inflation Roundtable. It was made up of some 100 steel and construction companies and large corporations concerned about the rising costs of construction, which they attributed to union wage demands. The construction industry was experiencing a slump as foreign companies entered the market and a shortage of skilled workers gave unions a measure of bargaining power. The aim of the Roundtable was to fight union power and wage demands. It supported an anti-union Association of Builders and Contractors (ABC) and its members used and subsidized open-shop (non-unionized) contractors for their building requirements in an effort to drive unionized contractors out of business.