Wars, Depression, and the Struggle for Industrial Democracy, 1914–1947
The years bounded by the two world wars constitute a watershed in U.S. labor history, a time of profound changes in almost every feature of working-class life. During these years, the structure of the economy was transformed by consolidation of a mass production economy and the emergence of its mass consumption counterpart. The composition of the U.S. working class was altered by dramatic changes in the racial composition of the industrial labor force. Paradoxically, these years also saw corporate industrial capitalism plunge from the zenith of its vast cultural and economic power in the 1920s to the nadir of its political influence and credibility in the 1930s. The Great Depression of the 1930s exacted an enormous human toll on working-class America and the frail community institutions upon which workers had traditionally relied during periods of economic hardship. The scale of the economic collapse was so vast that it triggered the sea change in American economic and labor policy ushered in by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. Together with the political and social dynamics unleashed by U.S. participation in two world wars, the New Deal laid the basis for a policy of state intervention in the economy, a policy that directly benefited workers and their efforts to organize unions. Taking advantage of changing federal policy toward labor, union organizers orchestrated the most dramatic labor upsurge in American history during the 1930s, a departure best symbolized by the launching of the Committee for Industrial Organization (CIO) in 1935.
KeywordsCollective Bargaining Open Shop Woman Worker National Labor Relation American Federation
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