In the early 1930s, as the nation
slid toward the depths of depression, the future of organized labor seemed bleak. In 1933,
the number of labor union members was around 3 million, compared to 5 million a decade
before. Most union members in 1933 belonged to skilled craft unions, most of which were
affiliated with the American Federation of Labor (AFL).
union movement had failed in the previous 50 years to organize the much larger number of
laborers in such mass production industries as steel, textiles, mining, and automobiles.
These, rather than the skilled crafts, were to be the major growth industries of the first
half of the 20th century.
Although the future of labor unions looked grim in 1933,
their fortunes would soon change. The tremendous gains labor unions experienced in the
1930s resulted, in part, from the pro-union stance of the Roosevelt administration and
from legislation enacted by Congress during the early New Deal. The National Industrial
Recovery Act (1933) provided for collective bargaining. The 1935 National Labor Relations
Act (also known as the Wagner Act) required businesses to bargain in good faith with any
union supported by the majority of their employees. Meanwhile, the Congress of Industrial
Organizations split from the AFL and became much more aggressive in organizing unskilled
workers who had not been represented before. Strikes of various kinds became important
organizing tools of the CIO.
To find additional documents on this topic from
American Memory, use such search
terms as labor, worker, labor union, factory, Congress of Industrial Organizations,
and American Federation of Labor.
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