The Labor Spy

A Survey of Industrial Espionage

By Sidney Howard

First published in The New Republic in 1921


I. Nature and Scope of Industrial Espionage

II. Industrial Harmony

III. The Spy At Work

IV. Weights and Measures

V. Recruiting and Training

VI. The Character of the Spy

VII. Violence


The Labor Spy by Sidney Howard

The Labor Spy

A Survey of Industrial Espionage

By Sidney Howard


Based on a report made, under the auspices of the Cabot Fund for Industrial Research, for Dr. Richard G. Cabot, Professor of Social Ethics at Harvard, by Sidney Howard and Robert Dunn.

To anyone who sincerely believes in a co-operative spirit between labor and capital, this vast, insinuating system of bad will, provocation, corruption and violence is an intolerable obstacle to industrial peace. The evidence in these articles is complete enough to call for federal investigation.

The article which follows this brief introduction is the first of a series of seven on Industrial Espionage. The material is the digest of a report made under the auspices of the Cabot Fund for Industrial Research. The investigation was made by Mr. Sidney Howard for Dr. Richard C. Cabot, now Professor of Social Ethics in Harvard University. That part of the work which involved a direct approach to labor organizations was undertaken by Mr. Robert Dunn, Yale 1918, and a member of the Amalgamated Textile Workers of America.

The lead for the investigation was supplied by Mr. William Hard's article on espionage in Passaic which appeared in the New Republic last Spring. (Issues of April 7, 14, 21, 28, 1920.) The information amassed in the report to Dr. Cabot covers a much wider area, an area sufficiently large to establish a prima facie case for believing that the practice of industrial espionage is national in scope. Mr. Howard and his assistants uncovered the practice in the industrial centers of New York and New England, in Ohio and Michigan, in Chicago and in Milwaukee and in several smaller manufacturing towns. Direct information was amassed through manufacturers and from industrial detectives themselves, from court testimony and from the records of Congress. Many clues were supplied by the locals of unions, but curiously enough, Mr. Howard tells us, the national organizations of labor would not divulge material which the investigators knew them to possess. He tells us, also that there were A. F. of L. officials who denied that industrial espionage exists.

That it exists with enormous ramifications no reader of the series which follows will dispute. Industrial spying is a large industry, drawing its profits out of the perpetuation of suspicion between employer and employee. Remove suspicion, establish industrial relations on the basis of frank conference, as has been done in many industries, and the industrial spy loses his job. But where no conference exists, where employer and employee have no regular method of consultation, the spy appears as the real intermediary between capital and labor. Industrial espionage is a substitute for democratic industrial relations, a sneaking, under-handed, poisonous, trouble-making, trouble-perpetuating substitute. It is to the hygiene of industry what drug addiction is to the hygiene of the individual, a temporary and illusive relief that produces more trouble than ever it can cure.

The industrial spy, by the very nature of his business, cannot permit confidence to grow up between the employer and employee. His earnings depend upon keeping the employer frightened, the men restless and suspicious. It is not surprising to find, as Mr. Howard shows, that industrial spies have played both sides against each other, and have been at the bottom of a great deal of the violence and corruption of industrial conflict. It is a system based on the negation of honor and good faith in human relationships, and is bound to breed dishonor and bad faith wherever it is introduced.

To any one who sincerely believes in a cooperative spirit between labor and capital, to anyone who gives more than lip service to the American ideal, this vast, intricate, corruption and violence is an intolerable obstacle to industrial peace. The evidence here given is complete enough; it rests on sufficient documentary evidence, to call for federal investigation of the whole business, followed by strict legislation against the practice.

There is very little room, if any, for private espionage in a republic. It violates every sound tradition and every sound instinct of republican government. For it introduces into the inner circles of western life an attitude of mind that belongs to the intrigue and conspiracy of an Oriental court. There, where government is arbitrary and personal, espionage is the basis of administration. But here, we are supposed to have invented a substitute for arbitrary and personal government in the principle of representation and consultation, and there is no place for industrial espionage. Loyalty to American ideals is incompatible with this practice. It is 100 per cent un-American.

—The Editors, The New Republic.


Go to: I. Nature and Scope of Industrial Espionage.