The Wagner Act

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In 1934, the Wagner Act was first introduced, also called the National Labor Relations Act (NLRB), it promised "to ensure a wise distribution of wealth between management and labor, to maintain a full flow of purchasing power, and to prevent recurrent depressions." (Babson, p. 85) During the mid-1930's organized labor and the United States Government struck a deal. It was the time of Franklin D. Roosevelt. A volatile time, the country was attempting to recover from a depression, unemployment was at an all-time high and organized labor was struggling for its own existence. "Vast numbers of the unemployed are right on the edge," observed Lorent Hickock, a Pennsylvania reporter hired by the federal government to report on social conditions. "It wouldn't take much to make communists out of them." (Babson, p. 65)

This essay will highlight the argument that the NLRB wasn't a giant step for the labor, but just an attempt by the government to appease the American worker to avoid continued social unrest that lead to the development of a third political party or even a revolution. Prior to analyzing labor's attempts to forge ahead one must understand the circumstances which led to the militancy amongst working Americans in the 1920's and 1930's. Organized labor experienced a decline in membership during the 1920's, an era during which labor confronted a multitude of problems which attacked it from every conceivable angle. The Woodrow Wilson administration enacted the Espionage and Sedition Acts of 1917-1918 which made it a crime to advocate draft resistance and opposition to the war, consequently thousands of Union Activists were branded as subversives and arrested or fired. In addition, the Wilson administration established the National Ware Labor Board (NWLB) to prevent strikes that might interrupt wartime production. The immergences of company unions or employee representation plans were formed in an effort to repel left winged unions. The Scientific management theory was being widely utilized, which essentially emphasized total management control over workers, dehumanizing jobs and workers.

When the World War ended in 1918, the workers who were suppressed during wartime began to fight back immediately. "Within weeks of the guns falling silent, there followed the biggest strike wave to that date in American history. More than four million workers dropped their tools and went on strike in 1919, spurred in part by inflationary price increases since 1914," (Babson, p. 40) The most of strikes in 1919 ended in defeat for the Unions, and during the 1920's organized labor had lost much of its power. Big business now began efforts to "Americanize" foreign and native born radicals in the labor movement, and even the Supreme Court ruled that the government could not place restrictions on the hiring of child labor, could not set a minimum wage standard, or could not otherwise interfere with business operations. According to the Supreme Court, the word "picket" "suggested a sinister and militant purpose to deprive owners of their property rights."

The late 1920's brought the stock market crash and a deep economic depression; the mass unemployment led the way for widespread social unrest. The depression reached into the homes of everyone in the country causing widespread dissatisfaction. The mass unemployment produced a "leveling in gender, ethnic, racial and occupational identities, preparing the ground for a more unified labor movement. (Babson, p. 55) As the depression began to take its toll on Americans, the dreams of prosperity and the pursuit of all the finer things in life began to disappear. Between FDR's election in November 1932 and his inauguration in March 1933, unemployment rose from a staggering 13.2 million to a massive 15.1 million workers. (Berstein, 1970) The hopes of workers turned to despair and for those whom were fortunate enough to be employed during these times, job security became the...
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