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Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Happy Birthday, Wagner Act

Here's another link I'm posting for those interested in worker justice. And who isn't, if you are not self-employed?

The Wagner Act is also known as the National Labor Relations Act and it guaranteed workers certain rights including the right to organize and to form unions. It included provisions that organizing efforts could not be blocked by corporations by firing workers who choose to join unions and companies couldn't threaten to lock employees out or to close their shops if their workers voted to join unions. Most of these provisions are routinely violated today.

At the same time, workers have lost ground on the right to overtime pay, wages are flat while companies and CEOs are reaping huge profits and bonuses. The middle class is being eroded by outsourcing, automation and a general race to the bottom of the barrel as skilled workers are being forced to compete with those in foreign countries who are willing to work for poverty level wages.

America once had a strong economy, a stable political system, and a high standard of living for average people because we had a strong labor movement that fought for decent wages. During the fifties, sixties and seventies, Americans took their standard of living and the stability and security of the middle class for granted.

You never know what you've lost until it's gone. But this time, let's not wait until it's too late to defend our economic and political rights.

Please go to the site, read it over, and if you agree, sign the petition.



Anonymous said...

My father was a union organizer for the United Mineworkers of America. He started his career by finding relief for striking miners and their families during the 1927 strike in the Western Pennsylvania coalfields. The strike involved almost 200 thousand miners and lasted approximately 15 months. State Coal and Iron Police were brought into the area to evict the families from their homes and impose unconstitutional restrictions such as seizure of property and monitoring the ingress and egress to the company town. It was a time of brutal beatings, rape, and murder. The hardships are well documented in my book, “Miner Injustice the Ragman’s War”.
The horrid conditions during the strike prompted a Federal investigation that resulted in the draft of the National Industrial Recovery Act. Proposed to congress in the summer of 1928 it failed. By autumn the strike had ended. The union was left in shambles. The miners went back to work for whatever wages were offered. Times were hard. Deductions from the workers meager wages barely covered rent and tools let alone basic necessities purchased at the company store.
The NIRA did not pass until after Franklin Roosevelt took office in 1933. It became the centerpiece of his “New Deal.” Pap along with other union members joined Jefferson Clubs that worked hard to spur a grass roots movement to get Franklin Roosevelt voted into the Presidency.
Before the ink was dry on the new National Recovery Act, members of the UMWA were busy signing up miners to join the union. Although unions were now legal, the coal companies did everything within their power to stop the movement. It was a dangerous time for the union organizers and many lost their lives. The steel, coal, and rail industry even attacked the National Industrial Recovery Act. The validity of the act was taken all the way to the Supreme Court where seven of the nine sitting Justices were appointed by the previous Republican, industrialist controlled administrations.
In 1935 the court declared the NIRA as unconstitutional. Fortunately Congress had enacted the National Labor Relations Act (Wagner Act) the same year. The Wagner Act guaranteed workers the right to join unions without fear of management reprisal. It created the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to enforce this right and to prohibit employers from committing unfair labor practices that might discourage organizing or prevent workers from negotiating a union contract.
Certain union organizers like my father were still not satisfied. Since most coal miners suffered from “black” lung in their later years, they were unable to handle the intensive labor required in the mines. Many had to live with their children who already had too many mouths to feed. The union organizers persevered to make legislators aware of the need for old age insurance, but had little success.
While still governor of New York, Franklin Roosevelt had realized the critical need for old age assistance. In 1933 soon after he was elected, Roosevelt appointed Frances Perkins as Secretary of Labor, the first woman in American history to hold a Cabinet post. She moved to Washington, “to serve God, FDR, and the common workingmen.”
Labor now had a sympathetic ear in a high office. Union supporters of old age insurance expanded their efforts into organizing a grass roots letter writing campaign. Thousands of letters poured into the President’s office pleading for help. Union activists gathered signatures on petitions that supported the Old Age Revolving Pension Plan first proposed by Francis Townsend.
On June 29, 1934, Roosevelt established the Committee on Economic Security and gave it responsibility for designing a social security plan for the United States. In early January 1935, the committee submitted its report to the President. It was the basis for the administration’s proposed Economic Security Act. After numerous revisions and being renamed the Social Security Act, the bill faced a long and bumpy road. Passage took seven months of struggle. There was little support from farmers and businessmen, Republicans, and several Democratic politicians. Most newspapers were hostile to it. Finally, during the first week of August, both House and Senate passed the bill, and it was sent to the President for his signature. Roosevelt, although disappointed by all the modifications, signed it into law.
Despite being law, the Social Security Act faced two more challenges. The first was the 1936 Presidential election. Republican candidate Alf Landon, governor of Kansas, advocated repealing the Social Security Act and made it an important issue in his campaign. The Hearst newspaper chain attacked the law with front-page articles based on gross distortions.
The second challenge was from the Supreme Court. Fed up by previous biased rulings and feeling confident from his 1936 landslide victory, Roosevelt was resolute to restrain the prejudiced Court packed by his predecessors. On February 5, 1937 he requested that Congress enact a bill that would empower him to appoint one additional Justice for every one who turned 70 and did not retire, for a maximum of six, thus enlarging the Supreme Court from nine Justices to up to fifteen.
With a Court docket that included, in addition to the Social Security Act, the popular pro-labor Wagner Act, the Court had a thorny dilemma. Most of the Justices, loyal still to industrialist interests, were opposed to the expanded government control that these laws granted. On the other hand, if they voided them, Congress would most likely enact Roosevelt’s Court packing proposal. After weighing the options, the Court decided to uphold both the Social Security Act and the Wagner Act.
The gains in fair labor laws and social security were hard won. The leaders in labor and government have their place in history, but their triumphs would not have been possible without the efforts of the common working man. They and their families paid the ultimate price of human suffering and sacrifice—“blood and tears,” to quote my father. Today we enjoy the benefits.

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

Thank you so much for your comments. I am humbled by your vast knowledge of the labor struggles of the brave men and women who fought for America's working class. They are true patriots who fought so that all of us could have better lives.

In New York, my uncles fought similar battles in the clothing trades. One of my great uncles was an organizer for what later became the International Ladies Garment Workers Union.

As you may know, the conditions in the factories where clothing was manufactured were also dire and bloody battles were fought to bring protection to the many workers - often young, immigrant women - who sewed for a pittance in sweatshops.

An early scandal was the young girls who lost their lives in 1911 in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. The bosses had locked the fire escapes to prevent the young women from leaving their work or stealing. There were numerous safety hazards including the fact that there was an inadequate number of exit doors and the ones that existed opened inward, so the women could not escape the blaze. There were only 27 bucket of water available to try to combat a raging fire.

So these young girls were trapped and perished. That was one of the many abuses that began to turn public sentiment against the robber baron factory owners and toward the newly organized New York union.

And it's sad that right now this Administration is making an unprecedented assault on both unions and the rights of modern workers to organize and to be represented in collective bargaining.

I will get your book so that I can learn more. And I urge others to learn the history of the labor movement and of the patriotic men and women who fought and gave their lives so that we might have better working conditions, more prosperity and a brighter future for our children.

Right now, we are endanger of losing all that and of having to refight the same battles that were won seventy years ago.

Again, thank you for your comments. They have added a lot to my blog.