Nationalist Initiatives in the Department of Labor
T hroughout the summer and fall of 1917, Department of Labor officials had worked to expand the embryonic USES in spite of a lack of funds and congressional indifference to their requests for assistance. Although politically weak, the department had managed to rebuff efforts to dislodge it from the position it claimed as the appropriate body to regulate the wartime labor market, and it continued to project itself aggressively in a number of different ways onto the national stage. Departmental officials hoped that, if they could hang on, eventually events would begin to move in their favor. Finally, in the winter of 1917-18, their patience was rewarded.
The initial strategy adopted by the Department of Labor in its efforts to project itself as the appropriate body to regulate the labor market was to promote cooperative agreements with other departments and wartime agencies. By late summer 1917, the department had reached tentative agreements with the Post Office Department, the Department of Agriculture, the Civil Service Commission, and the State Councils Section of the Council of National Defense, which coordinated all state councils of defense throughout the country.
Although starved of funds and lacking a clear mandate to establish a national employment service, department officials used these cooperative agreements to promote the visibility of the USES. Under the proposed agreement with the Post Office Department all fourth-class post offices were to operate as labor exchange agencies linked to the USES. The state councils of defense were to promote the establishment of labor exchanges in smaller towns and cities, which would also cooperate with the USES.