Toward a New Deal in Baltimore: People and Government in the Great Depression

By Jo Ann E. Argersinger | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6 The Struggle to Unionize
Labor Organization and the New Deal

The Great Depression and the New Deal intensified the drive for collective action among the city's workers. "When the New Deal arrived in the spring of 1933," Baltimore's Sew-Sew News declared in November 1939, "the women's garment workers reacted to it at once by launching one organization drive after another." Like the citizens who acted in concert to exert greater control over their neighborhoods, laborers organized both as workers and as members of their communities. Rooseveltian rhetoric legitimized labor organization, and local labor leaders used New Deal slogans to equate union membership with patriotic duty. Versions of the slogan, "The President Wants You to Join a Union," rapidly spread beyond the printed appeals of the United Mine Workers. In 1937, for example, Baltimore cab drivers struck under the banner "Roosevelt Said Organize." New Deal labor legislation also did much to encourage organization. Nationally, union membership climbed from 3.4 million in 1929 to over 8 million in 1939. Section 7(a) of the National Industrial Recovery Act passed in 1933 stated that employees "shall have the right to organize and bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing." Inadequate enforcement of this provision under the NRA and the Supreme Court's subsequent decision invalidating the Recovery Act, how-

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