Labor Market Politics and the Great War: The Department of Labor, the States, and the First U.S. Employment Service, 1907-1933

By William J. Breen | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIVE
The Role of the War Labor Policies Board

B y the spring of 1918 the Department of Labor's drive to establish a centralized control over the wartime labor market, which had seemed almost within its grasp during the winter, had reached an impasse. Although the USES, with the aid of a $825,000 grant from President Wilsons's emergency war fund, had expanded rapidly, the Seattle experiment and other indications of ineptitude had robbed it of any chance of securing the support of either the employment professionals in the states or the major government departments and agencies. Lacking support in Congress, the Department of Labor could only hang on and hope that the wartime drift of events would work in its favor. Evidence of a mounting labor shortage in the spring intensified the pressure on all the parties involved. In the early summer, the newly created War Labor Policies Board finally managed to break the deadlock and secure an agreement that the USES would be given a virtual monopoly over the supply of labor for war industries. The price for that agreement, however, was a fundamental reorganization of the USES and a reorientation of its policy.

During the first twelve months of American involvement in the war, a fierce debate raged between those who believed that wartime demands were creating a labor shortage that was rapidly assuming crisis proportions and those, particularly representatives of organized labor, who feared that reactionary employers were using the issue to try to undermine labor standards.1 The debate highlighted the complete absence of reliable, up-to-date statistical information on trends in the labor market.2

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