FDR and the Modern Presidency: Leadership and Legacy

By Mark J. Rozell; William D. Pederson | Go to book overview
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The union campaign began to produce results. Sidney Hillman, codirector of the National Defense Advisory Commission and the Office of Production Management, argued the union's case within the councils of government and FDR himself began to raise the question with other members of the administration. Finally, on April 1, 1941, the union shut down Ford's River Rouge complex, site of two-thirds of Ford's production activity. Ford charged the strike was a Communist plot to disrupt defense production. FDR and Michigan's Democratic Governor Van Wagoner gave Ford no aid. Instead, they sought to persuade the company to bargain with the union and agree to an NLRB election. The company capitulated to the pressure. On May 21, 1941, 70 percent of Ford workers voted for the UAW. One month later, the company and the union signed their first contract. At the last moment, Henry Ford threatened to carry out his earlier promise to shut down the factory rather than go forward with a new relationship with his employees. His wife threatened to leave him if he pursued this course, and Ford decided to accept the new situation. There was not a fundamental change in his outlook, however. The company's labor relations policies remained chaotic and would be put on a new footing only after Edsel Ford's premature death in 1943 and the cessation of Henry Ford's active involvement in the company following a second stroke. Edsel's son, Henry Ford II, defeated those in the company who would carry on in the old way in 1945.47

The New Deal approach to labor relations had become consolidated in major areas of the industrial economy. By then, however, Franklin Roosevelt was dead. Postwar hopes for a resurgent New Deal were dashed by the eruption of the Cold War and by a renewed big business offensive to enact restrictive labor legislation with no FDR in the White House to help stem the tide.

Robert C. Harvey, The Art of the Funnies: An Aesthetic History ( Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 1994), 99-104. Emphasis in original.
David L. Lewis, The Public Image of Henry Ford ( Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1976), 538 n17.
Clipping, Washington Star, May 2, 1938, Acc. 984, Reel 25, Ford Motor Company Archives, Dearborn, Mich. (hereafter FMCA).
New York Times, April 28, 1938, p. 1; Sidney Fine, Frank Murphy: The New Deal Years ( Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1984), 486-88.
Report of UAW Research Department on Employment in Greater Detroit, April 18-23, 1938, UAW Executive Board Minutes, Addes Coll., Box 6, Archives of Labor History and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University.


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