American Labor and Consensus Capitalism, 1935-1990 by Patrick Renshaw

By Patrick Renshaw

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Hitherto, labour unions had been tolerated. Now LABOUR AND THE GREAT DEPRESSION 19 they were to be encouraged, at a time when they were showing every sign of erupting like a force of nature. The New Deal thus provided a momentous watershed in the history of the labour movement. Age-old traditions were smashed; new and dynamic forces were released. Never before had as much economic and political power seemed within the reach of organized labour. The struggles, hardships, and defeats of a century appeared to have culminated in the possibility of complete attainment of workers' historic objectives.

As with the UA W in the motor industry, this gave Communist organizers the chance to grasp union leadership in a series of strikes. Communists also managed to establish a presence in the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers, the International Woodworkers (who had been driven out of the AFL by Hutcheson), the small Fur and Leather Workers, the Southern Tenant Farmers' Union and Farm Equipment Workers. Communist influence made itself felt in the retail and wholesale trades, in Henry Bridges's breakaway West Coast Longshoremen, in the East Coast merchant seamen and in a number of other unions, NEW DEAL RENAISSANCE 35 of which the Hollywood Screen Actors' and Screen Writers' guilds became notorious ten years later.

In addition to such activity in mining, the garment trades and textiles, other labour organisers enrolled members in hastily chartered AFL Federal Locals in the motor, electrical and rubber industries, created an independent grass-roots movement in the totally unorganized steel industry, captured company unions or joined unemployed protests for protection and relief. Finally, general strikes in Minneapolis, Toledo and San Francisco were a dramatic portent which showed that radicalism could break the mood of apathy and demoralisation typified by labour during the early New Deal.

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