Appendices - Hirohito's War
ECONOMICS OF THE PACIFIC WAR – THE NEW DEAL MOBILIZED
Productivity, Entrepreneurs, Management, Labor, Blacks and Women: The result of America’s significant advances in productivity in the 1930s enabled the US Army, Navy and Marines to expand their manpower from 189,000 troops, 125,202 sailors and 19,432 marines in 1939 to 8.3m, 3.4m and 0.5m respectively in 1945. It was a massive shift of manpower to the military achieved without damaging the nation’s economic potential. Furthermore it was an armed force that was infinitely better equipped in terms of skills to fight a mechanized war than it would have been in 1930.
Nevertheless the rapid mobilization of the nation toward military production beginning in 1938 required a massive expansion of training in modern skills. The sudden increase in demand caused dislocation even in a labor pool with 10m unemployed. In Harper’s magazine in July 1940, one writer noted: “an ironic commentary on our contemporary economic difficulties is that, with more than ten million unemployed, there is even now an increasing number of fields of activity short of skilled labor.”29 Another observer wrote, “Manpower is like gasoline. There’s plenty but not where you want it.”30
However where opportunities for training were created, thousands rushed forward. When in July 1940 the New York City Board of Education advertised for 10,000 people with mechanical experience to partake in a 10 week refresher course, some 5,000 applicants swamped the recruiting desks on the first day with many waiting in line all night to seize their chance. Within a week 20,000 applications had been submitted. In other cities similar programs were launched to produce a target of 150,000 machinists, lathe operators, welders, aviation mechanics, electricians and radio technicians. Sidney Hillman, the labor representative on the National Defense Advisory Commission, did much of the work of coordination of this training activity. Hillman, a political refugee from Lithuania who arrived in the United States in 1905, was an immigrant who made good and fervently wanted to contribute to his adopted country. The quietly spoken, pragmatic labor leader, a devout supporter of Roosevelt, was a brilliant leader who was able to bring the unions to support the war effort.
The training of labor enabled a rapid increase in the workforces of the major companies that benefitted most from war contracts. At the start of the war General Electric (GE) had 34 manufacturing plants covering 29m sq.ft. but, in addition to increasing the capacity of existing facilities, by 1945 the company possessed 68 plants covering 41m squ.ft. The workforce meanwhile had grown from 76,000 to 170,000 over the same period. War also brought industrial concentration. While small firms benefitted from improvements to the economy, it was the ‘whales’ that gained most. In 1940 the top 100 firms accounted for 30 percent of industrial output; by 1945 the top 100 dominated the industrial landscape with 70 percent of all factory product.
As for the development of the huge cadre of new managers required by the newly burgeoning defense industries, this was done in the time-honored tradition of ‘training on the job’. As Henry Kaiser observed, “You find your key men by piling work on them. They say, “I can’t do any more,” and you say, “ Sure you can. “So you pile it on and they’re doing more and more. Pretty soon you have men you can rely on absolutely.”31 During the war productivity grew rapidly. Frank Bacon, President of Cuttler-Hammer, which moved from controls for trolley cars and elevators to manufacturing control switches and motors for warships as well as magnetic clutches and brakes, increased its number of supervisors from 84 to just 86 even though total employment at the company jumped from 3,000 to 7,000. One of them boasted, “All key men are averaging 50% more hours and 100% more effectiveness.”32
The war also spawned a new type of entrepreneur. Henry Kaiser was typical of the new breed. Having grown his business in the construction era of the New Deal, he grasped with both hands the opportunities presented by the war economy, leaping aggressively into shipbuilding and steelmaking. While disdaining bureaucracy and traditional elite channels, Kaiser nevertheless played the Washington game brilliantly and was one of the first men to employ lawyers and lobbyists to gather information and cultivate contacts. In a babble of flattery Frazier Hunt described Kaiser as “a sort of Henry Ford; he’s colossal; he’s completely unbelievable… He’s the Master Doer of the world.”33 Men of a similar vein included Howard Hughes and William Bechtel. They were the new titans who developed the west of America into the industrial powerhouse that was to become so familiar in the post-war world. California became the new land of opportunity. San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Portland were transformed.
In the work of expanding and training the wartime labor force, Hillman also enlisted the help of Owen Young, the legendary retired Chairman of General Electric and founder of Radio Corporation of America (RCA) who had been Time magazine’s ‘Man of the Year’ in 1930. Young developed a plan for training by US industries working in coordination with the government’s defense agencies. In spite of opposition from the AFL (American Federation of Labor) metal and machinery unions, Young pushed through his program by late summer of 1940. Young’s work would prove vital in getting the US workforce prepared for the vast demands of economic mobilization for the war that lay ahead. He, like Knudson, and most of the corporate executives who flocked to work for the government defense agencies, were so called ‘dollar-a-day’ men who did their duty out of patriotic zeal; not that this endeared them to the many of the Roosevelt ‘New Dealers’ who viewed the entry of businessman into government with deep suspicion.
Neither businessmen nor the New Dealers were able to overcome the racism inherent in the employment of Blacks either in the military or industry. Even in 1943, as the labor crunch grew more serious, there was a reluctance to employ blacks. As Harold Ickes complained “here are ten per cent of our people who are not even considered for defense jobs.”34 Even though blacks in the 1940 census were more American than the whites with 99.4 percent of them being born in the US, compared to just 70 percent of the white population, many managers regarded them as ‘not American’. J.H. Kindelberger, president of North American Aviation, could have spoken for the broad cross-section of industry when he said, “Negroes will be considered as janitors and in other similar capacities… It is the company policy not to employ them as mechanics and aircraft workers.”35
A survey conducted by the Bureau of Employment showed that 51 percent of all prospective job openings were barred to blacks; in the aircraft industry that figure rose to 58 percent. Discrimination was not helped by the exclusion of blacks from many unions. Resistance came as much from American workers as from the union bosses. As one female worker told a reporter, “I just can’t get used to working with niggers. I’ll be so glad when this war is over and we don’t have to do it no more.”36 In some cities race relations deteriorated rapidly and in Detroit, where the Union of Auto Workers (UAW) had 55,000 blacks out of 450,000 members, it exploded into civil violence in the summer of 1942. In the fights and riots that enveloped the city several people were killed, 700 were injured and 1,300 arrested. Millions of dollars of damage was done to the city and in one of the war’s main production centers, output temporarily fell by 40 percent. Similar race riots took place in New York, while in California whites and Mexican Americans fought in the streets.
The same discrimination did not apply to women who were welcomed into factory jobs, skilled and unskilled. An aviation industry that was reluctant to employ blacks recruited 20,000 women in the course of the war. James Kindelberger, who was so damning of black workers, showed no prejudice against women workers; quite the reverse. “Employment of women has been a boon to the aircraft industry,” he averred. He went on to say to a bemused woman reporter, “Listen girl, I’ll deny that I ever saw you. But if you want to know how I feel… If I had my way now, I’d say ‘to hell with the men. Give me the women.”37
The call for manpower in the armed services enabled women to take an active role in areas of the economy that had long been a male preserve. By January 1942 the numbers of unemployed had declined to 3.6m and was falling fast. However a survey showed that there were still 45.2m people available for work; 31.9m consisted mainly of housewives but the remaining 13.9m consisted of women who were willing and able to work. The role of women as welders on slipways producing Liberty Ships has already been noted in Appendix B: Oil, Raw Materials and Logistics: ‘Just start swinging’. Agriculture was another area of the economy where women stepped up. An astonished grower recalled that “The women were the tops. I’ve never seen better pickers or cutters.”38
The aircraft industry soon picked up on the quality of female workers. Frances De Witt was offered a job at Consolidated Aircraft after taking a three-week craft course. She recalled that “I never did anything more mechanical than replace a blown-out fuse. But after the war broke out I wasn’t satisfied with keeping house and playing bridge.”39 At Consolidated a supervisor was surprised to find that production rates improved in units that recruited a large percentage of women. Other industries to benefit included food processing and textiles. Where manual dexterity and attention to detail were required, such as in the assembly of aeronautical instruments, General Electric found that women were the best. An additional advantage of women workers was that they were less likely to leave. At some plants annual turnover of employees could be as high as 100 percent as recruiting officers took men off to war.