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Increasing Militancy and Strength of the Labor Movement from 1933 to 1939 (Essay Sample)


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Xinjie Li
Writing assignment 3
June 21, 2019
The Increasing Militancy and Strength of the Labor Movement from 1933 to 1939
During the early 1930’s, the United States fell into a pit of a terrible depression, and the future of labor unions seemed very bad. In 1933, only about three million workers were members of a labor union compared to around 5 million members in the previous decade. The American Federation of Labor failed to organized millions of workers in various mass production industries such as automobiles, textiles and steel. When the Great Depression hit in 1929 and led to massive unemployment, the unions’ bargaining leverage was further reduced. While in 1933 the future of organized labor seemed bleak, the labor movement’s prospects would soon be transformed. This paper seeks to argue that the tremendous gains experienced by the labor unions between 1933 and 1939 can be attributed to the pro-union stance by the Roosevelt administration and the legislation passed by the Congress as part of Roosevelt’s New Deal, as well as the rise of mass, militant strikes spearheaded by radical activists and the formation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). This assertion will be given credence in the succeeding paragraphs with emphasis on Roosevelt’s New Deal and the formation of a universal union. The participation of radical activists should be a given since union organizing will not prosper without the “organizers”.
The Post-Depression America was a showcase of a stagnant economy that needed a strong leadership from the government. With the election of Roosevelt in 1932, his administration started to appear favorable on the pleas and demands of workers and labor unions. When FDR entered into office, he soon sought various vital laws which advanced the cause of labor. However, this is only an after effect since the entirety of the New Deal program was built on the premise of jumpstarting a stagnant economy. It is widely thought that the unemployment during the Depression Era was caused by “underconsumption” and weakness in consumer demand (WBA p.446) due to low wages or no income at all. The idea behind the New Deal was a progressive counter capitalist move which was considered to be left leaning and socialist in nature. The shift from manufacturers to the labor group was supposed to kick start a spending economy where the power of the purse could be transferred back to the masses. Thus, the Expanded Jobs Program came into effect as an answer to unemployment. The government set up agencies such as the Civil Works Administration that initiated work projects for more than 4.5 million students and young workers (WBA p.446). Another agency, the Works Progress Administration provided productive jobs that improved hospitals, schools, playgrounds and airfields which became a standard of welfare action instead of the usual dole outs. Another program that was set into action by the administration is the Social Security Act. The Social Security Act also provided the needed relief as a reactionary to the depression. The administration knew that safety nets needed to be imposed that would protect the marginalized from the shock of another depression. This Act was also used as a bargaining tool for the administration to raise taxes. The Social Security Act was therefore repackaged as insurance bought on by the people’s tax dollars. The act became synonymous to old-age insurance and retirement benefit whilst providing insurance aid to poor families and social protection for all citizens. This law disrupts the elitist notion that the poor and unemployed were to blame for their predicament (WBA p.447). In retaliation, members of the conservative congress passed the National Industrial Recovery Act that seemed to prop...

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