American Labor in the Era of World War II

By Sally M. Miller; Daniel A. Cornford | Go to book overview

sessions that address national and international issues. The theme of the seventeenth annual conference in 1991 was "Labor in the Era of World War II" in observance of the fiftieth anniversary of the entry of the United States into that war. Of the 17 sessions at the conference, more than half focused on aspects and ramifications of the war for American workers. The chapters in this collection are revised versions of papers read by James B. Atleson, Richard Boyden, Alan Derickson, Marilynn S. Johnson, Delores Nason McBroome, Shirley Ann Moore, Nancy L. Quam-Wickham, David Oberweiser, Jr., and Robert H. Zieger. Only the chapters by Nancy L. Quam-Wickham and James Atleson have been previously published, and the chapter by Gretchen Lemke-Santangelo represents a later, invited contribution.

Many of the important issues that arose during World War II had antecedents in the 1930s, and their resolution and implications extended far beyond the war. Therefore, the "war era" is defined broadly in this volume as encompassing the period from the mid-1930s until almost the 1960s. During these years, and especially during the war itself, an unprecedented "recomposition" of the American population occurred; 1 yet, only recently have scholars begun to explore the demographic, cultural, and economic changes in a serious manner. Clearly, it is impossible to understand such phenomena by focusing narrowly on the world of labor. A fuller understanding of this crucial period requires approaches and methodologies that represent all subfields of the new social history. 2

During World War II alone, approximately 15 million Americans moved from one city, state, or region to another in search of work, while about 13 million Americans donned military uniforms. As Marilynn S. Johnson has noted, relatively little attention has been paid to migration in American history after 1920. She calculates that, between 1940 and 1947, some 25 million people (21 percent of the population) migrated to another county or state, compared with only 13 percent who moved in the period 1935-40, and migration rates were even less during the early 1930s. 3

The magnitude of this migration alone does not reflect the degree to which the work force was altered. Four and one-half million people moved permanently from the farm to the city, pulled by some old industrial cities like Detroit that benefited from the wartime boom and by the industrial transformation of the Far West and parts of the South. 4 In the course of World War II, 1.6 million blacks and whites left the South, and black employment in agriculture declined from 41 percent to 28 percent. Employment of African-Americans tripled between 1942 and

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