Herbert H. Lehman and New York's Little New Deal

By Robert P. Ingalls | Go to book overview

VI
LENDING LABOR A HAND

During the early years of the Depression, organized labor faced an uncertain future in America. Membership in trade unions had fallen off in the 1920s for a combination of reasons, including rising wages and the antiunion climate, of the times. By 1930, almost fifty years after the formation of the American Federation of Labor (AFL), only 10 percent of the country's nonagricultural workers held union cards. Based largely on skilled workers engaged in construction, mining and transportation, the AFL had made little headway in organizing employees in the nation's factories. When the economy collapsed, many unions fought simply to survive. The Amalgamated Clothing Workers, centered in New York City, saw its rolls drop from 177,000 in 1920 to only 7000 dues-paying members at one point in 1932. Scarcely able to sustain itself, Amalgamated cut staff salaries by 50 percent and eliminated most publications. 1 In the midst of this period of crisis, one trade union official candidly summed up the plight of the AFL: "I can't help but conclude that we are steadily declining in influence, certainly in membership and income, and the future looks dark."2

Weakened by the Depression, organized labor relied increasingly on government aid. Although traditionally opposed to public intervention in labor/management relations, the AFL had over the years gradually endorsed limited legislative action protecting the right to organize and setting minimum standards in areas largely unaffected by collective bargaining. Trade unionists had long sought, for example, curbs on antilabor injunctions, and they backed the crusade for workmen's compensation during the Progressive Era. However, not until the 1930s did the AFL broaden its narrow legislative program to include unemployment insurance and minimum wages for men. Under the impact of the Depression, organized labor not only approved many public welfare schemes, but also welcomed government's entry into the field of labor relations as a guardian of the right to organize. 3

During the 1930s, trade unions actively sought state as well as federal assistance. While the AFL lobbied in Washington for protective legislation, local affiliates campaigned for similar measures at state capitals. The New York State Federation of Labor, the largest group of its kind in the country, drew on years of experience in Albany

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Herbert H. Lehman and New York's Little New Deal
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Foreword vii
  • Preface ix
  • Notes xi
  • Contents xiii
  • Illustrations xv
  • Introduction xvii
  • Notes xix
  • I- from Wall Street to State Street 1
  • Notes 24
  • II- Emergency Unemployment Relief 31
  • Notes 42
  • III- From Emergency Relief to the Welfare State 48
  • Notes 66
  • IV- The Search for Security 71
  • Notes 94
  • V- Defending the Defenseless 102
  • Notes 123
  • VI- Lending Labor a Hand 131
  • VII- The Promise of Parity 148
  • Notes 172
  • VIII- The Advent of Public Housing 182
  • IX- Battling the Utilities 210
  • Notes 226
  • X- The End of an Era 231
  • Notes 244
  • Notes 255
  • Bibliography 257
  • Index 275
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