We all know that militant trade unionists went over the top in the Sixties and Seventies. But the rot set in a lot earlier. During the First World War, the American government nationalized the country's railways. They were returned to the private sector in 1920, in a dilapidated state.

The Pennsylvania Railroad was desperate to repair the damage to its infrastructure and the staff's morale. It realized that its staff were an important asset and that they needed to be motivated to prevent technical faults and ensure the network worked smoothly. So Ivy Lee, the company's PR advisor, argued that "The employee must want to do his job for all it is worth or [a train wreck] may happen". The company agreed, and decided the best way to get enthusiastic staff was to pay its staff better than any other railway.

At this point, the trade unions had a tantrum. According to Ray Heibert's biography of Lee, the unions opposed the pay rise because, they argued, pay scales had to be set nationally for all the railways.

How generous of them.