Sidorick, Daniel. Condensed Capitalism: Campbell Soup and the Pursuit of Cheap Production in the Twentieth Century. Ithaca: ILR Press/Cornell University Press, 2009. Daniel Sidorick chronicles the illustrious and controversial history of the Campbell’s Soup Company that was based in Camden, New Jersey for 122 years. Condensed Capitalism details the history of the factory, led by John T. Dorrence, the President of the company who ran it with an iron fist. Campbell’s was always for the pursuit of the cheapest production and labor possible under Dorrence.
The Campbell’s soup factory definitely had its issues under Dorrence, as Sidorick uses in-depth primary sources to detail the factories’ issues from all ends of the company totem poll. The management of Campbell’s refused for the longest time the unionization of the workers at the plant. With the time period being so anti-communist with the onset of the “Red Scare” and the Cold War, Campbell’s capitalized on that fear by denouncing unions, which gave the business much more leverage over their workers.
Campbell’s appeared to be a wholesome, family-oriented business from an outsider’s erspective, but Sidorick’s book brings to light the ruthless management of Campbell’s by Dorrence and the management. Sidorick tends to focus on several key aspects of the Camden factory in his book. The fact that Dorrence and the Campbell’s management stayed in Camden for so long seemed to be one of Sidorick’s main themes, since that is such an unusual strategy for a company so intent on gaining the greatest amount of profit and most efficient production and labor strategies.
Another thing to note about Sidorick and his book is that he is undoubtedly biased leaning more towards the workers, but he oes an excellent job in showing many different perspectives throughout the company to help support his bias. Sidorick explores many different archival sources from both ends of the spectrum, cultivating some solid points that strengthen his arguments. Sidorick’s Condensed Capitalism creates a large audience for anyone who is interested in labor history, union history, or the history of minorities in the workplace and globalization.
Sidorick’s book goes through nearly a century of history and it seems to express the effects that globalization can have on a company and the city that it is based in. Dorrence and the management of Campbell’s kept the base in Camden, New jersey all the way until 1991, and the city fed off the production and the jobs that the company provided. Sidorick successfully uses stories from the local farmers and the suppliers to Campbell’s throughout the country to help illustrate this point.
Local farmers also relied on the company for their profits and when the company began to outsource and bring in product from elsewhere, it took a toll on farmers as well. Camden took a | on hit when the factory shut down as well, the economy of the once ooming city spiraled downwards and it ended up becoming what it is today; one of the most dangerous, impoverished cities in the United States. Sidorick does a fantastic job in outlining this towards the end of his book. That seems to be one of his objectives with Condensed Capitalism.
Another objective of the book, when considering his apparent bias towards big business, was exposing the famous company for their wrongdoings and their mistreatment of their workers and their suppliers. Campbell’s was viewed as a wholesome company that expressed many traits that Americans valued, and Sidorick rgues for the opposite, which makes Condensed Capitalism a very interesting read. The most intriguing aspect of Sidorick’s Condensed Capitalism is the chronological order that he placed it in and how easy it is to read how Campbell’s soup’s history unfolded over the years.
Sidorick’s book is a great scholarly book that seems to mix labor history with gender, race, and union history. Campbell’s implemented many policies that segregated their workers by race and gender, in fact they didn’t even begin the practice of hiring African-Americans until decades into the 0th century, and they were treated poorly once they did. The onset of the Red Scare was utilized tremendously by the management of Campbell’s, feeding the hysteria that the American people already had. They created divides between their workers through their anti-union propaganda and their segregation policies.
Sidorick does a great job explaining the different policies that Dorrence enacted to keep a tight leash on their workers. Campbell’s utilized the Cold War, they took advantage of the longstanding racism ideals that America had already had by mistreating their African American workers, and hey stayed afloat during the Great Depression due to the support from the government. The government bailed them out during times of labor shortages by helping provide them with cheaper labor from African American workers, who were “lucky” to have the job.
Campbell’s used everything in their arsenal to maintain a stronghold over their workers, and they succeeded in doing so for the longest time. After the long period of time, the workers finally managed to become unified and gain leverage over Dorrence and the higher-ups at Campbell’s and helped form a collective bargaining agreement and a union. Sidorick provided many accounts from workers that detailed their experiences with regards to the company trying to divide them and avoid a collective bargaining agreement.
Sidorick’s examples of the way Campbell’s repeatedly took advantages of their workers and the outside factors helps prove his argument that Campbell’s negatively impacted the lives of the workers and the manipulative nature of Dorrence and the company as a whole and that was it was not the sweet-old wholesome company it was portrayed to be. Sidorick’s book as a whole is a great read in the field of labor history. He provides strong examples to support his arguments and creates valid points connecting over a century.
One flaw that Sidorick appeared to have was the in-depth analysis of mechanization and its impact on Camden and the headquarters based there. He does explain towards the end of Condensed Capitalism that the development of machines and more cost effective ways of producing the ingredients and supplies necessary to continue the Campbell’s soup company and the effect that it had on the shutting down of the Camden headquarters, but he does not go into great detail on that subject.
The shutting down of the factory and the globalization of Campbell’s severely hurt the city of Camden, so including a more in-depth perspective on the effects of mechanization would have helped strengthen his arguments more. He does not connect the mechanization of Campbell’s and the effect of the workers and the subsequent shutting down of the factory clearly enough. The negative effect it had on Camden seemed to be the main theme of this book, so his main argument became a little weaker with that lack of insight. Sidorick’s book is a great piece of literature for those interested n labor history.
Despite his lack of depth on the one noted weakness, he provided many in-depth accounts from all over the Campbell’s company and he strengthened his arguments through them successfully. Overall, Condensed Capitalism is a phenomenal read and it should come highly recommended for those interested in the history of Labor affairs, unions, race and gender relations, and the effect of globalization. It is also a great read if you are interested in the history of one of the most successful food companies in America’s history, Campbell’s soup.