In December 1953, a group of anti-labor business leaders gathered in Washington, DC, for the first in a series of secret meetings. The meetings were organized by a Southern paper-box manufacturer named Edwin S. Dillard, who was heir to the Old Dominion Box Company and had spent years fighting to keep his workforce from joining a union. The goal of the meetings: to find a way to crush the American labor movement.
Dillard enlisted the help of a prominent corporate public-relations firm, Selvage & Lee, to find others who might be committed to the cause. According to a trove of legal documents shared with The Nation by the UAW, their efforts brought together retired congressman Fred Hartley, who was notorious for spearheading what labor referred to as the “slave-labor bill”; Whiteford Blakeney, the nation’s premiere anti-union attorney (in later years, he would go on to help lead what one federal judge called a “full-scale war against unionization” at the J.P. Stevens textile plant against Crystal Lee Sutton, the real-life Norma Rae, and her coworkers); and representatives from GE, the Santa Fe Railway, and a host of Southern tobacco, manufacturing, and textile firms.