Thursday, November 8, 2007
M & M Becomes Entangled in Controversy Over Unions
By ROGER M. GRACE
The Merchants’ and Manufacturers’ Assn. was, at the outset, hardly a controversial organization. Before long, however, it became one.
The organization, headquartered in the Wilcox Building, in the late 1890s pushed for cleaner streets…created jobs through a privately-funded public works project in Elysian Park…opposed shoddy business practices…promoted the purchase of locally produced goods…and played a key role in the staging of an annual fiesta. But then it got involved in seeking to abate the growth of the union movement.
“By the early twentieth century, the M & M would be among the most vehement anti-union, open shop organizations in the entire nation,” according to William Deverell in his 2004 book, “Whitewashed Adobe: The Rise of Los Angeles and the Remaking of Its Mexican Past.”
An “open shop”—which simply means that no one is denied a job simply because he or she is not a member of a union—has long struck me as a matter of basic fairness. In 1958, when I was 13, U.S. Senate Republican leader William F. Knowland was running for governor on a “right to work” platform, and his stance made sense to me then, and still does. (I remember watching several hours of his all-night, all-day telethon which he left, while it was in progress, to appear on “Meet the Press” opposite his rival—who was to be elected—Pat Brown.)
But to some in the early 1900s, the M & M, because of its belief that an individual should not be denied a job by virtue of exercising the right of non-association with a particular group, had become something vile. And the influence that the publisher of the Los Angeles Times was seen has having within the M & M was somehow seen as sinister.
Putting aside that claptrap, there are contentions by critics that the M & M resorted to extremist tactics. Maybe it did, though the allegations appear unproven.
What is certain is that the M&M, in seeking to promote business interests, found itself pitted against resolute extremists. These included terrorists in the labor movement, as well as anarchists and, later, Communists.
As to the seriousness of the threat of labor movement fanatics, it will be recalled that the dynamiting of the Los Angeles Times Building on Oct. 1, 1910, resulted in 21 deaths. The home of the secretary of the M & M was a target of the unionists that same day.
Dennis McDougal in his 2001 book, “Privileged Son: Otis Chandler and the Rise and Fall of the L.A. Times Dynasty,” relates:
“Shortly after noon, police were called to the home of Felix J. Zeehandelaar, the zealous antilabor secretary of the Merchants and Manufacturers Association. Fifteen sticks of dynamite were wired to an alarm clock set to go off at 1:00 P.M., but the bomber had wound the wire too tightly; the device had been discovered harmlessly ticking beneath Zeehandelaar’s bedroom window.”
McDougal notes that in connection with the prosecution of the McNamara Brothers, accused of being prime conspirators in the Times bombing, “[t]he Merchants and Manufacturers Association ponied up…$100,000 in working capital for [services of detective William] Burns and attorney Earl Rogers, who had been appointed to help prosecute the dynamiters.”
He adds that as public sentiment veered in favor of the McNamara Brothers, Times General Manager Harry Chandler (later the publisher) resorted to a ploy to distance the Times and its ally, the “sycophantic” district attorney, John D. Fredericks, from the effort to establish the defendants’ guilt. He had Fredericks hire a special prosecutor with no ties to Publisher Harrison Gray Otis, McDougal says, continuing:
“To ensure public sympathy, the Times raised money on behalf of the widows and orphans of the Times bombing to pay the prosecutor’s salary. Such a move would check organized labor’s howls that the McNamaras could never get a fair trial in Los Angeles, Chandler reasoned, and it would also remind a fickle public that the two brothers stood accused of brutally murdering twenty-one innocent men and women. Responding to Chandler’s cajoling, Fredericks reluctantly hired former U.S. Attorney Oscar Lawler as a token demonstration of his office’s impartiality. But the Times widows and orphans didn’t pay his salary; the Merchants and Manufacturers Association quietly underwrote Lawler’s salary….”
Despite the ultimate confession by the McNamaras, the fable was yet perpetuated that the Times’ management had a role in the bombing. An article by Eugene V. Debs in the January, 1912 issue of the “International Socialist Review” implicates the M & M in the scheme. Debs, a five-time candidate for president on the Socialist Party of America ticket, says:
“Certain it is that Otis and his Merchants and Manufacturers’ Association who had sworn to wipe organized labor from the Pacific Coast had everything to gain and nothing to lose by the blowing up of the Los Angeles Times, while organized labor had everything to lose and nothing to gain from this and similar outrages.”
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company
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