Depression Decade: From New Era through New Deal, 1929-1941

By Broadus Mitchell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VIII
Labor under the New Deal

WHEN NRA, particularly its Section 7(a), came to the rescue, labor unionism in America was shattered as it had not been in almost a century, following the panic of 1837. During the prosperous twenties, ironically, unionism had been weakened; the onset and early progress of the depression demoralized it. Between 1920 and 1929 the membership of the American Federation of Labor fell from 4,093,000 to 2,769,700. Practically all unions except those in building construction, public service, printing, and entertainment lost membership. The percentage of workers deemed available for unionization who were organized dropped by practically a half in the decade, from 17.5 per cent in 1920 to 9.3 per cent in 1930. The depression tore at union ranks. Between 1929 and 1933 the American Federation of Labor lost at least 452,200 members, falling to 2,317,500; the unaffiliated unions, despite gains in some, suffered a net loss of 17,400, falling to a total of 655,500. Among the sharpest declines were those in building construction, transportation, textiles, and metals, machinery, and shipbuilding. 1

Contrary to previous experience in times of brisk business, several influences conspired in the "New Economic Era" to drain the unions of membership and morale. Underlying industrial developments strengthened the opposition of employers and put organized workers at a disadvantage. This was undeserved, certainly unexpected, by labor, which had been loyal to the war effort, forgoing

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1
Leo Wolman, Ebb and Flow in Trade Unionism ( New York: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1936), pp. 138-139.

-268-

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