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Sir Cuthbert Clegg Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview with
Sir Cuthbert Clegg

Member, Lancashire Mission to India, 1936; Cotton Industry Working Party, 1945-46; Cotton Manufacturing Commission, 1946-48; Anglo-American Council on Productivity, 1948-52; British Productivity Council, 1952-54.

London, England
August 13, 1970
by Theodore A. Wilson

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]


This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.

Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.

This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

Opened August, 1980
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri


[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]


Oral History Interview with
Sir Cuthbert Clegg


London, England
August 13, 1970
by Theodore A. Wilson


CLEGG: The body that came to be called the Anglo-American Council on Productivity was set up at the instigation of -- who was then the Secretary of State?

WILSON: The Secretary of State then was [George] Marshall.

CLEGG: It was under the Marshall plan, or in conjunction with, but I'm trying to think who else was more particularly concerned.


WILSON: Averell Harriman was a special representative...

CLEGG: I don't think it was Averell Harriman; I know him. He's a director in Brown Brothers, with very close relationships with the French Bank.

WILSON: Right.

CLEGG: No, there was somebody else.

WILSON: Paul Hoffman?

CLEGG: Paul Hoffman, I think was the originator of the idea, and the idea was this: During the war all industry had been geared to war production and no one had been able to install much new machinery for anything other than making of munitions. In other words, we had lost five years of what would have been technical progress, during which time you in America, with your much larger resources, had continued developing your technical processes,


as well as your war production. Of course, that must have taken up a great proportion of your total production. Mr. Hoffman came over here, I remember meeting him, and addressed a joint meeting of the employers' bodies and the trade unions on this question. He said that if there was anything that the Americans could do they would be happy to do so, not friendly purely for altruistic motives, but because they saw everyone becoming very impoverished in Europe as a result of the war, and possibly communism might get a foot-hold over here, and then what might happen?

Anyway, they were concerned that the whole problem of prosperity should be built up again after the losses and damages of the war. Also, that they might make it possible for our management and labor people to see what had been done in America in the last five years in technical progress so that they could be better informed and copy it over here. I may be attributing things to


him which subsequently Phil Reed said, who was the first Chairman. But what they said was that America was a free country and they couldn't guarantee that any particular company would be willing to help us over here, but what they had in mind was that joint parties of trade unionists and employers should go across to America to their own opposite industries; and go around works, so far as the Americans were willing to have them, which it turned out they were very good about, and see the latest processes and have any information that the company was prepared to give them about technical advances and methods of working and so on.

So, that was the start of the thing in 1948.

Next, about a dozen people were appointed from both sides. From the American side, Phil Reed, who was the chairman of General Electric at that time, was the chairman. Incidentally, I have not seen him for some time, but I met him and his


wife when they were over here last year. Spencer Love, dead now, became a good friend of mine through this because I was in textiles and so was he. He was chairman of Burlington Mills. There were two or three other important industrialists whom I didn't get to know as well as Mr. Love. I stayed with Mr. Love several occasions at his home in Washington and once he took me down to West Palm Beach for a weekend.

Anyway, it was a matter of you would be able to get in touch with the man you wanted to meet if you haven't already met him with the others, if it's interesting. And then of course, there was a question of the labor side.

We said, on the British side, that if this was going to involve increased productivity, which was one of the objects, that we must have the support and participation of our trade unions. Also we would like them to sit in on this as members from the start. This frankly was a bit of a shock to


the members from America who weren't accustomed to doing this in the same way that we'd become quite used to in this country. In fact, this made some sort of history in that this was the first time I think that employers and trade unions in America sat around a table to discuss problems of this kind.


CLEGG: Furthermore, at that time, there was a split of your two big labor organizations in America, you had the AF of L and the CIO, and they were not very friendly. You probably know all about it, so why am I telling you?


CLEGG: But briefly the AF of L were craft unions and the CIO were the big...

WILSON: Industrial trade unions.

CLEGG: They didn't like each other very much at any


level. Subsequently, of course, that was forgotten about and they joined up together didn't they, and now are one. This partly came out of this experience. First of all they came over here for meetings, and on our side there were three members from the British Employers' Confederation and three from the Federation of British Industry who represented the commercial side. I was one member from the British Employers' Confederation representing the labor relations side, and on the employees' side were four or six leaders of the trade unions. Your side came to be made up similarly, with Mr. Reed as the chairman.

Subsequently he didn't wish to be laying down the law from one side, so he invited Sir Frederick Bain, the senior representative from the Federation of British Industry, who at that time was vice-chairman of Imperial Chemical Industries, and Sir Greville McGuinness, president of the British Employers' Confederation, an engineer, to be


chairmen. Thus, we ended up with three chairmen, if not four, but they took it in turns.


CLEGG: It was thought that this was a more friendly thing. To start with, it was Mr. Reed who took the lead in all this, and did it extremely well. We all got to like him very much and we had a series of meetings. The Americans came over here to London going through this whole idea and discussing how it might be operated. We decided that the thing to do was to form teams, about a dozen in number, from as many industries as would like to participate. In the event, the number got up to 66, so it was quite a lot. These teams would be composed of employers and workmen, from the trade unions, and they would go across to America. The steel body would visit as many steel works as possible, and then they would draw up a report, which would be published here


for anybody in the steel industry, or anyone else, to read. Similarly, with all these other industries, textile and so on. When the first of these teams had been organized, and the arrangements made, we found that American companies were willing to open their doors to them. We went across as a body, at the same time to have a return series of meetings on further details and what might further be done with our American friends, and also to visit a few places where this team was going to, and see how they would get on.

In the event, I forget whether it was steel or what the first one was, but regardless, we went to a number of factories and we found that they were getting on very well, made good friends with the American opposite numbers, and this plan seemed worthwhile. If it hadn't at that point, we might have had to alter the arrangements or even call it off altogether. But that was not so, and I think that altogether 66 teams went


across. Would it have been financed under the Marshall plan?

WILSON: Yes, I believe by the Economic Cooperation Administration.

CLEGG: It was the ECA that paid their fares and so on, and it was very greatly appreciated. I think it had a very good and lasting value because things were in a confused state here at the end of the war. Many of our labor friends were looking to Russia as being the great place, and there was this revulsion against Mr. Churchill in the 1945 election. They were thinking the Russians were the big boys, they were the chaps that really beat the Germans. I think people have forgotten how close we were to thinking very highly of the Communists in that time -- a lot of people in this country.

This had an interesting sidelight later on because we went over to America at least once


more as the thing progressed. I think, when about twenty teams had been over, it was thought that we ought to go again and see whether this procedure warranted improving or whether we should go on on the same lines, and if so, how many more industries wanted to send them.

Anyway I'm certain that we went twice, maybe three times, and the second time, coming back on the ship -- a little sidelight -- happened to be Mr. Ernest Bevin, who was Foreign Secretary at that time, and of course, we had our trade union members with us. There was Arthur Deakin, who was in the same union that Mr. Bevin had built up, the Transport Union Workers, and Tom Williamson, Lord Williamson now, who was the head of the General and Municipal Workers and Will Lawther who was the Mine Workers' secretary at that time. Anyway, they all knew Ernest Bevin very well, and Ernest Bevin at that time was getting a little bit infirm and he used to walk around the deck of the


ship with a stick and watch us sling deck quoits and play deck tennis and then he'd ask us down to his cabin for a glass of sherry or a cup of coffee, and so we got to know him quite well. He was just on his way back and he had been Foreign Secretary then for a year or two. He did a great service to this country in that the trade union people took what he said, I mean they trusted him. He said to me, "You know, when I first took office, there was this question of closer relations with the Russians, which our people were so keen on in the Labor Party. I went over to Moscow and I stayed there for a month, and really didn't get anywhere at all with them." He said, "So I said to" -- I've forgotten whether it was Molotov or who is was at that time. I said, "Well, look, we haven't really got anywhere here. Speaking for myself, you're coming over to London in six months time; I shall have another try then to come to some understanding with you. But, if that fails I shan't


try anymore." Well, he said that he made arrangements and nothing happened and, "I didn't try any more." He said, "Now I've been over to Washington," and he said, "I was very well received there and I think we can really get along better with the Americans."

Well, that was an interesting comment.


CLEGG: Well, anyway going on about productivity, it went on until 66 teams had been and published their reports, which created a lot of interest over here. The trade unions, having been involved in it, came back and spread the gospel by saying, "Well, look, we've been around these American works; we know that they're producing more than we do here, partly it's because they've got more modern machinery, partly because they've got new methods they've found in these last five years, probably it's because they work harder or whatever," but at any rate they gave their own opinion. They didn't just say, "Well, the boss


has been over, he says they work much harder than we do, we don't believe him." That's the essence of the thing, getting them together. So they talked to their own people very sensibly, and I think the whole thing had a very good effect on British industry at that time, which is a little difficult as we look back, the atmosphere is so different now. Granted we still have our troubles here in the docks with the container ships, but at least there is a better understanding than the one we had before.

WILSON: That raises a question, your reference to container ships. I assume that one of the points which came out was the matter of simplification of duties on the American side, which might have meant that some persons in a particular industry would lose their jobs; they'd be moved to different jobs. Was there a difficulty about this?

CLEGG: This was a very important point, very much


in our mind, and very much in the minds of the trade union people. This is a good point to fix on, because when they went to American works, what they would be told by their opposite numbers on the trade union side was, "Well, yes, it's true. One man is producing much more now and you think therefore that there would be another man out of work. In actual fact, that's not been our experience, because where we can produce more, we find we can sell more. The bigger output of the articles, of the productivity was really being increased