The Second Red Scare and the Unmaking of the New Deal Left

By Landon R. Y Storrson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
Allegations of Disloyalty at Labor and
Consumer Agencies, 1939–43

In May 1939, a front-page story in the Chicago Tribune warned that a “communist united front organization” called the League of Women Shoppers (LWS) was conducting an “ingenious campaign” to intimidate employers by threatening to boycott companies that backed pending amendments to the National Labor Relations (Wagner) Act. Many LWS officers were married to prominent New Dealers, and the Tribune implied that New Dealers were leaking information to their wives in order to suppress criticism of the Wagner Act and generate the appearance of grassroots support. Furthermore, LWS members and by implication their husbands in government were “fellow travelers of the communist party.”1 The article did not mention that the LWS also was backing a bitter CIO strike against Hearst Corporation newspapers, a strike that would culminate in an injunction against Hearst.2 A few weeks later, the daughterin-law of Interior Secretary Harold Ickes told the woman sitting next to her at a luncheon that the LWS was “the fashionable thing to belong to in Washington now.” Unbeknownst to Mrs. Ickes, her lunch companion was an undercover investigator, whose report on the LWS soon reached the Special House Committee for the Investigation of Un-American Activities (the Dies Committee).3

Long before the formal creation of the federal employee loyalty program in 1947, conservatives began accusing New Deal agencies of harboring subversives. Two examples in the 1939–43 period involved charges that the Wagner Act’s administrative agency, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), and the Office of Price Administration (OPA) had ties to Communist-dominated elements in the labor and consumer movements. Women were important in those movements and in the government agencies they helped create, and conservatives highlighted and even exaggerated women’s influence in an effort to undermine public confidence in the agencies. The role of the NLRB’s perceived sympathy for the CIO in stimulating the reaction against the New Deal is well known, but the consumer movement also should be recognized as a trigger of the campaign against “Communists in government.”

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