By Patrick Renshaw
Booklet via Renshaw, Patrick
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Extra resources for American Labour and Consensus Capitalism, 1935–1990
In the first half of the 1930s labour had largely been the passive receiver of economic calamity and reform. After 1935 all that was to change as labour erupted dramatically to become the instrument of change itself. The Wagner Act, Social Security and Fair Labor Standards had not been envisaged when FDR entered office. They were to evolve gradually out of the needs of the times. A basic understanding and sympathy for the rights of labour was nevertheless inherent in the emerging philosophy of the New Deal by 1935.
This weakness was not really repaired by anyone in his entourage. After his landslide win in 1932 the President's administration contained people like Frances Parkins and Harry Hopkins, whose experience as social workers among the poor made them sympathetic to labour's aspirations, but ambivalent at best to labour leaders like Hutcheson and Lewis whom they rightly saw primarily as power brokers. Other Roosevelt advisers, like Donald Richberg and Leo Wolman, may have had great experience as labour lawyers, but events in the 1930s were to expose their paternalism.
For the great majority of the American labour union rank and file, less ideological and more pragmatic, Roosevelt's aristocratic manner, warm human sympathies and matchless popular appeal appeared to combine democratic capitalism with social justice in an irresistible blend. Naturally enough, the CIO was far more aggressive in this burst of mid-1930s political activity than was the AFL. Its radical advocacy of industrial unionism carried over into political promotion of social reform. As a brand-new organization it was not bound by old shibboleths or obstinate conservatism like the AFL.