Exam preparation materials


The Wagner Act and other New Deal legislation permanently legitimized labor unions and collective bargaining. Some unions became emboldened by the Wagner Act, and several sit-down strikes occurred in the late 1930s. The most famous occurred at the General Motors plant in Flint, Michigan, in January of 1937. Workers refused to leave the plant; by February management had to give in to the worker’s demands. Other strikes of the era turned bloody; at a 1937 strike at Republic Steel in Chicago, 10 strikers were killed. Nevertheless, union membership rose dramatically in the 1930s.

Another development was the creation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). The American Federal of Labor, founded in the 1880s, was made up mostly of skilled workers. The first president of the CIO was John L. Lewis; the goal of this union was to organize and represent unskilled factory and textile workers. By 1938 this organization represented over 4 million workers. CIO members were on the front lines of the strikes mentioned in the previous paragraph.

The burden on women and blacks was great during the New Deal. As men lost their jobs, more and more women were forced to take meager jobs to support their families (despite the fact that women workers were oftentimes criticized for “stealing” the jobs of men). It should be noted that Francis Perkins was the Secretary of Labor during the 1930s; Roosevelt employed a number of women in influential roles during his presidency.

Blacks were especially oppressed during the New Deal, Oftentimes they were the first fired from their factory or business; relief programs in Southern states sometimes excluded blacks from receiving benefits. Lynchings continued in the South throughout the 1930s; Roosevelt never supported an antilynching bill for fear of alienating Southern Democrats, The Scottsboro Bovs trial received national attention. In 1931 nine black young men were accused of raping two white women on a train. Without any real evidence, eight of the nine were sentenced to die. It is ironic that the American Communist party organized the appeals of the Scottsboro Boys; in the end some of their convictions were overturned.

Nevertheless, blacks did support Franklin Roosevelt, as they felt that he was generally supportive of their cause, Roosevelt did hire blacks for several policy posts in his New Deal administration, Mary McLeod Bethune, founder of the National Council of Negro Women, was appointed in 1936 as Director of the Division of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration. Bethune lobbied Roosevelt on the concerns of blacks, and also worked to increase the support of influential black leaders for the New Deal.

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