In Pursuit of Equity: Women, Men, and the Quest for Economic Citizenship in 20th Century America

By Alice Kessler-Harris | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
Maintaining Self-Respect

Looking at the range of depression-fostered initiatives around labor and employment policy, one is struck first by how profoundly the expectations of ordinary people altered. Americans moved from staunch opposition to federal government intervention in the lives of most men (but not women) to eager experiments with government mediation of every kind. Newly adopted social policies had many goals, but among the most dramatic were those connected with earning wages and keeping jobs. By the mid-1930s, a newly authoritative federal government had acknowledged a role for organized labor and begun to subject business to a range of restrictive, though sometimes welcome, regulation. To be sure, the federal government had not generally been demurely silent in the face of struggles between business and labor. More frequently than not, it had intervened on behalf of business to still the discontent that emerged when market forces created havoc with workers' lives. And, its own civil servants and railroad workers aside, federal legislative and judicial bodies had resolutely left to the states the task of constructing labor legislation.

That changed in the 1930s when the search for economic security became, in historian Steve Fraser's words, the dynamic force urging “collaboration between modern management and centralized industrial unions.” 1 The new administrative state that mediated this process fostered a dramatic expansion of union membership and encouraged labor's participation in every aspect of governmental regulation. The process unfolded over a fourteenyear period of congressional debate and government action around a series of bills designed to regulate employment during the Roosevelt years. While considering, and rejecting, bills to limit the workweek to thirty hours and to set up a European-style system of social insurance for everyone, Congress, as we have seen, acted swiftly to exclude married women from government

-64-

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In Pursuit of Equity: Women, Men, and the Quest for Economic Citizenship in 20th Century America
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 3
  • Chapter 1 - The Responsibilities of Life 19
  • Chapter 2 - Maintaining Self-Respect 64
  • Chapter 3 - Questions of Equity 117
  • Chapter 4 - A Principle of Law but Not of Justice 170
  • Chapter 5 - What Discriminates? 203
  • Chapter 6 - What's Fair? 239
  • Epilogue 290
  • Notes 297
  • Index 365
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