When postwar American business was a vast sea of gray flannel suits and tasteful ties, a few unorthodox individuals were not so quietly shifting the paradigm toward the breezier, Google-ier workplace of today. These change agents include a raft of idealistic social scientists as well as nonacademics.
In this episode of the multi-part series, we highlight labor organizer Saul Alinsky, who pioneered the use of shareholder activism to open Kodak’s doors to more African Americans. Alinsky was the embodiment of the activist principle that behaving badly is sometimes necessary because, in the words of the civil-rights anthem, “The nice ways always fail.” If ever a neighborly company existed, that was Eastman Kodak. to those outside the company, particularly the black people of Rochester, the company was an object of seething resentment. It was the largest employer in Rochester, and it had never let them into the family.
In 1964 twenty thousand black residents lived in Rochester, crowded into a few neighborhoods where landlords rented to them. Most of them had come up from the southern states in search of jobs; now they lived in tenements with twenty-four or twenty-eight families squeezed into houses designed for two.
Enter Alinsky, whose organization, the Industrial Arts Foundation, had an unparalleled track record for teaching slum dwellers to improve their own neighborhood conditions, often beginning by winning over the neighborhood’s delinquent gangs. In principle, Kodak managers agreed that opportunities for blacks should be increased, but they didn’t see that this was Kodak’s responsibility. Let the blacks pull themselves up, as every other ethnic group in America had done, to the point where Kodak would want to hire them. Anyone who looked at both organizations could see that an impasse was inevitable.
We also discuss shareholder activism, CSR, ESG, and corporate activism. We welcome back the author of, “The Age of Heretics: A History of the Radical Thinkers Who Reinvented Corporate Management”
More about Art: https://www.linkedin.com/in/artkleiner/