My article, “The Company’s Voice in the Workplace: Labor Spies, Propaganda and Personnel Management, 1918-1920,” has now appeared in the Fall 2013 issue of Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas, vol 10, no 3, 57-79
(Submitted June 2010; accepted February 2012)
During World War I, a new form of labor spying developed in addition to spying on unions and strikers and doing “efficiency work,” namely, doing “propaganda work.” As a result of the emergence of propaganda combined with increased interest in personnel management, labor spies became the employer’s voice in the workplace, repeating arguments drawn from management literature and seeking to change how workers thought about their relationship with their employer. Propaganda work also required labor spies to develop sufficiently intimate friendships with employees, so that they would listen to the spies’ arguments. Propaganda work was thus more tied to ideas about management and economic circumstances and was more invasive of everyday life than the other practices of labor spies. By examining the reports of two operatives hired to do propaganda work in Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill Company plants in Atlanta and Brooklyn, in 1918 and 1920, respectively, Stephen Robertson explores the development of this form of labor spying and how the circumstances of war and peace affected its practice. He compares the reports of the two operatives, one male and one female, and highlights how gender shaped propaganda work.