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Labor in America During WWII Assignment Answers

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Chapter 18

not the tidy home, but the low-wage job ghetto heretofore reserved for female workers. Now theytook higher-paying jobs in the once all-male preserves of steel mills, auto plants (now tank andairplane factories), shipyards, railroads, and machine shops. By the peak of the war, womenformed 36 percent of the full-time labor force. African Americans provided the other majorsource of wartime labor, and black women benefited even more dramatically than white womendid. Blacks left low-wage domestic menial and agricultural jobs for more skilled and better-paying defense work. The “great migration,” which had carried about 350,000 southern blacksnorthward from 1915 to 1918, repeated itself on a far grander scale between 1941 and 1945. Thistime, three to five million people left the South for the promised land to the north and west.

This transformation in the labor force did not occur smoothly and easily. Generally, whitewomen found entry into better jobs easier than black men and women. Yet even in their case,male workers, their unions, and employers insisted that, at best, women should replace men onlyfor the duration of the war. Blacks met much more resistance. Old-line, all-white AFL craftunions denied membership to blacks and tried to keep them out of skilled work. Even in themore open CIO unions and in nonunion factories, white workers threatened to strike if blacksreceived more skilled jobs. And many employers retained old prejudices, viewing blacks as fitonly for janitorial and other forms of menial labor. It took the threat of a protest march inWashington led by black civil-rights organizations in the midst of war to persuade PresidentRoosevelt to issue an Executive Order (number 8802) which established a Fair EmploymentPractices Commission. Under federal prodding and in response to the demands of total war,resistance by white workers, unions, and employers abated.

To this end, the president summoned a conference of labor and business leaders just ten daysafter Pearl Harbor to plan new measures for industrial cooperation. After prolonged discussion,the conferees agreed upon a three-point program: no strikes or lockouts for the duration ofhostilities; peaceful settlement of all industrial disputes; and, more concretely, the creation of atripartite board, with labor, management, and the public each represented by four members.This agency—the National War Labor Board—would be empowered to handle all laborcontroversies affecting the war effort that otherwise failed of settlement. In return for assurancesthat it would have a voice in determining such conditions and terms of employment as might berequired by wartime necessity, labor had agreed in the national interest to surrender for the timeits right to strike.

A sharp decline in work stoppages throughout the country was the immediate consequence ofthis agreement. In comparison with the 23,000,000 man-days lost in 1941, the total for 1942 fellto 4,180,000. But as the pressures and tensions of war mounted,

A first and vital problem that the War Labor Board faced was the issue of union security, whichhad wrecked the old Defense Mediation Board. The National War Labor Board met this problemsuccessfully with adoption of the principle of maintenance of membership. There would be noattempted enforcement of either a closed shop or a union shop in contract negotiations, butunion members, or those who subsequently joined the union, would be required to keep up theirmembership for the contract’s life. Should they fail to maintain good union standing, they weresubject to dismissal from their employment. The labor members of the Board accepted thissolution of the problem without qualification; those representing management acquiesced veryreluctantly. Once it had been agreed upon, however, the principle of maintenance of membershipwas consistently upheld throughout the war. It ultimately applied to some three million workers,or approximately 20 per- cent of those covered by collective-bargaining agreements.

The assurances embodied in this program for both union security and individual freedom ofaction contributed immensely to industrial peace and were greatly responsible for the low level ofstrikes during 1942. At the end of that year, labor’s leaders could boast that the country’s workershad maintained “the finest record of continuous, uninterrupted production ever achieved.”Addressing the AFL convention, Roosevelt stated that labor’s cooperation spoke for itself—“it issplendid.”

Moreover, the board’s troubles were compounded when passage of the Economic StabilizationAct in October 1942, which gave congressional sanction to the government’s program, expandedits authority beyond the disputed cases that were its original concern. The board was now obligedby government directive to restrict all wage increases, except where flagrantly substandardconditions existed, to the 15 percent increase in straight-line hourly wages that had been grantedin the steel industry. For the remainder of the war, the board consequently had two distinctfunctions: settlement of disputed cases and supervision of voluntary wage agreements. And inboth classifications, the Little Steel formula was frozen as the official limitation on all wageadjustments.

Organized labor promptly and vigorously protested against this broadening of the application ofthe Little Steel formula as an arbitrary and unwarranted interference with the process ofcollective bargaining that completely undermined the basis of labor’s no-strike pledge. Asconsumer prices continued to rise, reaching an index figure of 124 by the spring of 1943, theseprotests became more vehement, and a feeling of angry resentment flared up among the rankand file of industrial workers. They believed that the government was forcing the wage earners tobear the brunt of an inflationary price rise from which farmers and other producers were actuallyprofiting. Compelled to take some action, the government chose to try to roll back prices ratherthan permit further wage increases. While a

orders for the seizure of the coal mines and, on May 2, went on the air to appeal to the strikers toreturn to work.

Placing full responsibility for the breakdown in contract negotiations on the officials of theUnited Mine Workers, Roosevelt declared that every man who stopped mining coal was directlyobstructing the war effort, gambling with the lives of American soldiers and sailors, andendangering the security of the entire people. He expressed his sympathy for the miners,promising that any new agreement would be made retroactive, but insisted that production mustcontinue pending further negotiations. “Tomorrow the Stars and Stripes will fly over the coalmines,” the president concluded. “I hope every miner will be at work under that flag.”

Whipping up a mounting tide of national anger, the press criticized Roosevelt for failingsomehow to get the coal mines back into steady production, but newspapers leveled their mostvehement attacks against John L. Lewis. He was charged with want of patriotism for placing theinterests of the miners above those of the country, assailed for his arrogance, and castigated inseason and out for endangering national security. Even other labor leaders criticized the miners’embattled chieftain. There was sympathy for the workers, and in some quarters their strike waseven welcomed because it dramatized the government’s failure to hold down prices. Nonetheless,the CIO executive committee condemned Lewis for his supercilious attitude toward the WarLabor Board and for what it described as “his personal and political vendetta against thePresident of the United States.”

The situation could not endure indefinitely. After the second seizure of the coal mines, acompromise was finally hammered out between Ickes and Lewis, but it was one that went veryfar toward meeting the union leader’s original demands. On the basis of some increase in theminers’ working hours and the inclusion of portal-toportal time, this new agreement provided foran increase of $1.50 a day in the prevailing wage rates. By such expedients, it conformed at leastnominally to the Little Steel formula, and the War Labor Board, although very reluctantly,approved it. Lewis ordered the miners back to work. He had forced the government’s hand. If hisvictory was not quite as complete as he triumphantly claimed, his stubborn, intractable standhad served the miners well.

Roosevelt vetoed the Smith-Connally bill. Although he recognized the need to control strikes, heagreed with labor that the provision for a cooling-off period with strike votes ran wholly counterto the no-strike program. The proposed law, he stated emphatically, would be conducive to laborunrest rather than industrial peace. In the temper of the times, Congress paid no attentionwhatsoever to his arguments and, on June 25,1943, overrode his veto. The New York Timesdescribed what was officially called the War Labor Disputes Act as “a hasty, ill-considered andconfused measure.” Nonetheless, it remained on the statute books for the duration of the war.

Whatever the influence of the new legislation, which was hard to assess, strike activity followedan erratic course in succeeding years. As we have noted, it was to decline in 1944 and then, inspite of the new law, to increase in 1945. The most disturbing situation, apart from that in thecoal industry, developed in an area that fell outside the jurisdiction of the Smith-Connally Act orother wartime legislation. This was a threatened strike on the part of railway workers, sub


The role of the National War Labor Board (NWLB) had been generally ignored or bypassed in thesettlement of the labor disputes in both the coal industry and the railroads. Its authority underthese

become “a thumb-screw with which to torment the working people of America and theirfamilies.”

Despite such criticism, the great majority of the board’s awards were accepted voluntarily. It hadthe authority, should a decision in a war industry be disputed, to recommend to the presidentseizure of the affected plants and the consequent application of direct sanctions to compelcompliance with its orders. But this proved necessary on only forty occasions. The president tookaction twenty-six times when unions would not cooperate, twenty-three times whenmanagement proved recalcitrant, and once when neither the union nor management would agreeto a board decision.

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the leaders both the afl and the cio
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