For the government agency in Nebraska see Court of Industrial Relations (Nebraska)
The Commission on Industrial Relations (also known as the Walsh Commission) was a commission created by the U.S. Congress on August 23, 1912, to scrutinize US labor law. The commission studied work conditions throughout the industrial United States between 1913 and 1915. The final report of the Commission, published in eleven volumes in 1916, contain tens of thousands of pages of testimony from a wide range of witnesses, including Clarence Darrow, Louis Brandeis, Mary Harris "Mother" Jones, Theodore Schroeder, William "Big Bill" Haywood, scores of ordinary workers, and the titans of capitalism, including Daniel Guggenheim, George Walbridge Perkins, Sr. (of U.S. Steel), Henry Ford, and Andrew Carnegie.
In 1871, there was a failed attempt to create an Industrial Commission. There was also the Hewitt committee hearings of 1878–79, the three-year study of the Blair committee which ended in 1886, and a probe conducted from 1898 to 1902 by the United States Industrial Commission, appointed by President William McKinley.
In 1910, two leaders of the Structural Ironworkers Union, the McNamara Brothers, dynamited the Los Angeles Times building, killing twenty people. There was public outcry as a result, and President William Howard Taft proposed the creation of a nine-person investigative committee called the Commission on Industrial Relations, which was approved by Congress to be formally created April 23, 1912. Its findings were filed April 23, 1915.
The Commission on Industrial Relations got its name from a petition presented to President Taft on December 30, 1911, entitled "Petition to the President for a Federal Commission on Industrial Relations," signed by 28 prominent people, Members of the Committee on Standards of Living and Labor of the National Conference of Charities and Corrections, many of whom were associated with Survey magazine, such as Paul Underwood Kellogg and John A. Fitch.
The Commission was made up of nine commissioners, all nominated by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. All but one served from beginning to end. The original nine Commissioners were:
Shortly before the Commission's final report, Commissioner Delano resigned, and was replaced by Richard Aishton, vice-president of the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad.
Among the Commission staff were John R. Commons, a labor economist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and Luke Grant, a labor journalist and editor of the Chicago Inter Ocean. Only one of Grant's reports on the structural ironworkers bombing campaign was actually published by the CIR. However, an explosive report by Grant "Violence in Labor Disputes and Methods of Policing Industry" was never published and is only available in draft form from the National Archives and Wisconsin Historical Society.
Congress had authorized the Commission shortly before the 1912 presidential election, in which incumbent President Taft was defeated by New Jersey Governor Woodrow Wilson. Four Commissioners ultimately confirmed were originally named by President Taft in December 1912, one month after his defeat: Commissioners Delano, O'Connell, Garretson and Lennon. Taft also nominated five other persons, but the Senate failed to confirm them. Those failed nominees were U.S. Senator George Sutherland of Utah (who was Taft's proposed chairman), Connecticut state legislator George B. Chandler (American Book Co.), Charles S. Barrett (Farmers' Union); Adolph Lewisohn (investment banker, copper magnate, and philanthropist); and F. C. Schwedtman (electrical engineer).
Two months after entering the White House, President Wilson nominated replacements for Taft's five failed nominees.
The Commission's responsibilities were to:
The commission held 154 days of hearings. Walsh's leadership of the Commission attracted media attention and publicity. Some of the commission findings included:
"In an era of...muckraking, the [commission] raised the technique to an unprecedented height."
The commission studied several major strikes which occurred during its investigations, including:
When Walsh embarrassed President Wilson, and suggested investigating the southern states, U.S. Senator Hoke Smith of Georgia attempted to cut Walsh's budget 75 percent. The vote failed, and Walsh promptly sent investigators to Smith's state, making lasting and powerful enemies.
Journalist Walter Lippman stated there was "an atmosphere of no quarter" when Walsh subpoenaed and then questioned John D. Rockefeller, Jr. about the Ludlow massacre. For three days Walsh publicly chastised Rockefeller.
Historian Montgomery stated that the commission found:
Unable to agree on many points, the Commission published three different final reports. One of the reports — primarily written by Commissioner Commons, with Commissioner Harriman — was signed by a bare majority of five Commissioners. Instead of calling for "industrial democracy," the Commons' report instead advocated the creation of impartial labor boards. It did not characterize conflict between labor and management as an inevitable and permanent condition. Commons' report expressed fear that the Commission's report would "throw the [labor] movement into politics."
The report signed by chairman Walsh and commissioners Lennon, O'Connell and Garretson, written by attorney Basil Manly, was much more provocative and accusatory in its tone and conclusions. Its centerpiece was a call for industrial democracy and Henry George's 'Single Tax' on land values.
That report explained the conditions of agricultural estates:
Regarding conditions in company towns, the Manly report observed that they displayed "every aspect of feudalism except the recognition of special duties on the part of the employer."
A separate supplemental statement joined only by Commissioners Lennon and O'Connell opposed the creation of an agency-administered system of mediation and arbitration, in favor of strengthening trade unions (and employer associations). Their statement concluded:
The New Republic observed that the commission had gone well beyond its duties to investigate the "cause and cure" of labor unrest. In promoting industrial democracy, it offered a "tonic" for American democracy itself. The Seattle Union Record exclaimed that the report was "an indictment against organized capital. The journal The Masses stated the report signaled "the beginning of an indigenous American revolutionary movement.
Others criticized the report. The New York Herald characterized the Commission's president as "a Mother Jones in trousers." In 1916, Republican Presidential candidate Charles Evans Hughes called the commission "one of the tragic incidents of the present administration" which had "accomplished nothing". The president of the Pittsburgh Employers' Association stated publicly that Walsh "should be assassinated."
The influence the report had on US politics is debated among historians.
Graham Adams, Jr. argues and Louis Galambos agrees that the Commission's hearings and reports influenced the passage of such labor legislation as the Adamson Eight-Hour Act. Historian Rayback explains that the commission's report influenced the decisions of the War Labor Board and the authors of New Deal labor legislation.
David Montgomery states:
On the other hand, LaFayette Harter argues that the commission had been established to determine the roots of labor problems, but its liberal leanings caused Congress to ignore its findings.
George Brooks, reviewing Adams' book, contends that despite the fact that Frank P. Walsh later became cochairman, with William Howard Taft, of the War Labor Board during World War I that "it is an exaggeration to assume that the Commission was the principal, or even a major, cause of subsequent developments and to attribute to it, as [Adams] does, the development of "a more steeply graduated tax structure, promotion of collective bargaining, minimum wage scales, and the eight-hour day... ." There is nothing in [Adams book] which would support the view that the Commission ever had the importance of the La Follette or McClellan Committees."