The close, often cozy but sometimes rocky relationship between the Democratic Party and labor, which lasted for decades, was born and given form during Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal in the thirties and forties.
"Roosevelt and the people around him built the New Deal by bringing together a diverse group of interests, including labor, urban workers and white Southern farmers." says Peter Rachleff, a professor of history at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., and a specialist in U.S. labor history The wily and politically astute FDR saw the labor unions and their leaders as a natural part of the coalition that elected him to an unprecedented four terms.
Organized labor prospered as a political power, reaching the peak of its prestige and strength in the fifties and sixties, despite infiltration by communists, often in leadership roles, and widespread corruption among union leaders. But, like all political coalitions, Roosevelt's union of diverse interests withered; labor lost the intimate nexus it once enjoyed with the Democrats and unions themselves diminished in size and power.
"Labor was only one part of Roosevelt's coalition," Rachleff explains. FDR's supporters also included blacks, poor whites, Catholics and others of diverging interests held together only by their devotion to the New Deal. Inevitably they went their separate ways as time passed and …