The New Deal: The National Level

By John Braeman; Robert H. Bremner et al. | Go to book overview

Milton Derber


The New Deal and Labor

THE BASIC FACTS ABOUT LABOR IN THE 1930S ARE WELL KNOWN. THE interpretation of these facts, however, requires periodic reexamination in the light of changing times. Perspective is vital. Measured by one standard, an event may be relatively insignificant; by another standard, it may be of paramount importance.

The central aim of this essay is to subject the labor events and relationships of the New Deal period to a set of multiple perspectives in order, hopefully, to provide some insights that previous writings may not have fully yielded. The reader will be asked to consider the New Deal and labor from the viewpoint of three time periods. First is the contemporary view. How did the developments of the thirties look to the actors and observers of their day? Given the economic, social, and political conditions of the decade, what meanings did they attach to the Wagner and Social Security acts, the rise of industrial unionism, or the sit-down strikes -- to cite a few phenomena of common knowledge?

A second perspective is offered by examining the thirties from the standards of an earlier period -- I have selected the 1918-19 World War I years because they were the previous high point in the advance of governmental labor policies, reflecting much of the progressive ideas expressed in the reports of the U.S. Commission on Industrial Relations, 1913-15. Considering where labor and labor relations stood in 1919, what meanings might an observer from that period have attributed to the New Deal and labor?

A third perspective is provided by assessing the thirties within the frame of today, the early 1970s. In the three decades since Franklin Roosevelt

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