In Out of this Furnace, unionism at the outset of the depression was referred to as “merciless repression.” This was evident through the mere 6 percent labor force that belonged to the Unions.
But with the new climate inspiring men like Dobie from Out of This Furnace and aid from the federal government in the form of the Wagner Act, during the 1930’s unions were able to establish themselves, demonstrated by 1/3 workers carrying union card by 1940.NRA: National Industrial Recovery ActTo begin, the government provided a spark that fuel unions although it was the men who fought for rights that ultimately drove them to mass success. For example, in Out of This Furnace Dobie, the third generation Slovak, mentions how in accordance with the NRA, more specifically, Section 7A (which provided for collective bargaining for workers by sanctioning the creation of unions) the steel company established the Employee Representation Plan.Although company unions like this one did little in action to help it workers (Dobie actually states that it was created to keep out the real unions), they did much psychologically.
Dobie mentions that it broke the “fear of unionism the company had built up.” Thus, gave men confidence to take action. This was evident through Dobie and his efforts in bringing the AFL to Braddock.AFL: American Federation of LaborAlthough the government gave unions the opportunity and power to form, it was active and determined men like Dobie that actually made it happen.
Dobie and other men from Braddock requested 500 cards from the AFL, got signatures for each one and were able to establish the AFL in Braddock, a monumental achievement when compared to unions success in the past. Dobie gave up evenings, calling on men he knew and “visiting them at their homes with leaflets and application cards” (Bell 292).This achievement can also be contributed in part to the government. Although it can be said that the government did nothing, that fact that it didn’t intervene against these unions efforts and later strikes was much better that the hostility of earlier presidents before Franklin Roosevelt.
Although the AFL focused on skill laborers and also did little for the working man, there were other movements such as the CIO that created more unskilled workers unions and paved the way for some significant strikes.CIO: Committee for Industrial OrganizationThe purpose of the CIO was to help organize workers in unions for specific industries. An example of this is the SWOC, Steel Workers Organizing Committee. With efforts focused on the unskilled laborer, campaigns of the CIO were able to lead to significant and industry changing strikes.
For example, inspired by the recently passed Wagner Act, which protected labor’s right to bargains and supervised election of unions, rubber workers in Akron, Ohio sat down on the job in 1936.This lead to the laying off of 70 workers which then resulted in 1400 rubber workers forming a strike on their own until Goodyear Tire recognized the union and accepted its demands on wages and hours. Another example is the series of strikes at General Motors’ plants. Finally, a massive strike in Flint, Michigan broke that required the National Guard to intervene, but now in favor of the strikers! In less than a year, all automobile manufacturers except Ford had come to negotiation terms, with GM giving a 5 cent raise.
Wagner Act:The most important contribution from the government came through the Wagner Act because it affected both the workers and the companies. For the workers it created the National Relations Board which had the responsibility of guaranteeing workers the right to select own union without interference. Concerning the companies, it outlawed their refusal to bargain, company spies, and prohibited firing of spies.Conclusion:The 1930’s saw much improvement for unions and workers.
Different acts and organizations furthered the ability for unions to finally make significant changes, contrary to the previous decade where they existed simply by name, unrecognizable by action. There was pain and it took much dedication for these efforts to have results. As Dobie mentions, at times it felt like the world was against unions and the workers they represented.But freedom, confidence without intimidation or fear, allowed men to continue fighting with knowledge and conviction that they had a right to more and better conditions.
When the decade was over, 1/3 of workers belonged to unions. Unions had existed before but now they had members because unions had purpose and meaning. Belonging to a union didn’t mean you would be oppressed and ridiculed. It meant you would be heard and could help bring about change.