8
THE HISTORY OF THE
AMERICAN LABOR MOVEMENT
WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO
DEVELOPMENTS IN THE 1930'S

Sidney Fine

The decade of the 1930's was the most significant decade in the history of the American labor movement. During that span of years, the policy of the federal government with regard to the labor movement changed from toleration, or even hostility, to positive encouragement; the number of organized workers more than doubled. For the first time, unionism established itself in a significant way in the mass-production industries; and what had been a dispirited and demoralized labor movement became a vital and powerful force on the American scene.


WEAKNESS OF THE LABOR MOVEMENT BEFORE 1933

Throughout the history of the labor movement in the United States before the advent of the New Deal, only a small minority of American workers had seen fit to enroll in the ranks of the nation's trade unions. As of 1900, only 3 per cent of the civilian labor force (which, of course, includes many workers whom the unions made no attempt to organize) were union members. Twenty years later, the percentage of the organized had increased to twelve, but the union gains of the World War I era were largely dissipated in the early 1920's. As the decade of the 1930's opened, the approximately 3.4 million union members constituted but 6.8 per cent of the civilian labor force.

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