Organized Labor and Faction in the United States, 1930s and 1940s

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Rice University

During the New Deal in the United States (US), labor unions began to accrue substantial membership and stepped, for the first time, into the realm of political activism. Key arenas of involvement included Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s multiple re-election campaigns, the passage of the National Industrial Recovery Act, and the passage of the National Labor Relations Act. This trend prompted criticism by contemporary political opponents, who denounced organized labor as an undemocratic faction of the type decried by James Madison in The Federalist Papers No. 10. To combat such criticism, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) developed a new vocabulary of democracy, integrating American ideals of pluralism and representation into a carefully crafted narrative of unions’ governmental involvement. The specific political tactics utilized by organized labor defined the shape of its nascent electoral and legislative engagement and dictated the democratic rhetoric it used to defend its activism.

This paper was originally prepared for Course HIST 405, Fall 2019: Democracy and Capitalism, given by Professor Carl Caldwell, Department of History.

Wancewicz, Molly. "Organized Labor and Faction in the United States, 1930s and 1940s." (2020) Rice University:

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