Sep 5, 2022


RevBlogTranscriptsEncyclopedia Britannica FilmsU.S. LABOR MOVEMENT & UNIONS 1960s SCHOOL FILM Transcript

1960s short from Encyclopedia Britannica Films Inc. that focuses on the history of the United States labor movement during the 1930s and the accomplishments of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Read the transcript here.

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Speaker 1: (00:51)
In January 1911, FDR starts his first term as state senator. Three months later, the deplorable conditions of sweatshop labor are brought to the nation’s attention. 148 persons, mainly women and children, are burned to death as a fire sweeps through the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City. The New York state legislature immediately appoints a factory investigating committee, and when it introduces legislation favoring workman’s compensation and factory inspection laws, one of its most fervent supporters is the 29 year old Franklin D. Roosevelt. In the year 1911, Samuel Gompers, Robert F. Wagner, Alfred E Smith and I were labeled as radicals when we fought for, and finally succeeded in, passing a bill through the New York state legislature, limiting the work of women in industry to 54 hours a week.

Speaker 1: (02:08)
As late as in the 1920s, the federal government continues to give labor scant recognition. Labor gives its own unions scarcely more. Less than 6% of American workers are organized. Over the years, FDR’s convictions grow stronger that workers have rights, which should be protected by law. In 1928, he becomes governor of New York.

Franklin D. Roosevelt: (02:45)
I call for legislation to guard the [inaudible 00:02:49] in the factory and to ensure them a fair wage and protection from the dangers of their trades, to compensate them by adequate insurance for injuries received while working.

Speaker 1: (03:03)
When FDR assumes the presidency in 1933, he begins by making an unprecedented appointment. As his secretary of labor, FDR appoints the first lady cabinet member in history, Francis Perkins. To a reporter who asked whether she will not find her sex handicap, Ms. Perkins replies, “Only in climbing trees.”

Francis Perkins: (03:28)
Most important single concept is the idea of keeping up the wager of purchasing power, for without high wager of purchasing power in the United States, we cannot maintain business or industry or our population in the way in which American standards demand.

Franklin D. Roosevelt: (03:47)
The overwhelming majority of the workers of America understand, as do the overwhelming majority of employers of America, that this is no time to seek special privilege, undue advantage or personal gain because we face, today, a crisis.

Speaker 1: (04:08)
To assist economic recovery by raising the buying power of the American worker, FDR sponsors the passage of the National Industrial Recovery Act.

Franklin D. Roosevelt: (04:19)
I seek, definitely, to increase the purchasing power of the American people. Your government hopes that the building up of wages, and the shortening of ours, will result in an increase in the number of persons employed. Workers are here given a new charter of rights, long sought and hither to denied.

Speaker 1: (04:46)
Buried in the heart of the NRA is section 7A, which grants the right to labor, to bargain collectively. Section 7A, says that workers can choose representatives. Now, if they want to choose the [inaudible 00:05:12], they have a perfect right to do so. If they want to choose the Royal’s Geographic Society, they can do that. They have a free right to choose their representatives. The passage by Congress of the act arouses a storm of controversy. Private die hards, “Roosevelt is a traitor to his class. He has never met a payroll in his life. He has no right to hold any opinion about labor. He doesn’t know anything about it.”

Robert F. Wagner: (05:44)
It didn’t surprise him to find that there were things that he didn’t know anything about. He’d never been inside a [inaudible 00:05:52], until I took him. He never had the feeling of superiority that I think people expected of someone with his economic and social background.

Speaker 1: (06:09)
As the days rolled by, it becomes increasingly clear that 7A is too vague. The rights of labor are not always recognized by industry. Labor becomes more impatient.

Speaker 5: (06:21)
Miller workers, we want peace and prosperity in this country here. That’s what we are fighting for and that’s what we’re going to have.

Speaker 1: (06:35)
1934 opens with isolated explosions, then strikes become general across the land. In Minneapolis, the Teamster strike effectively paralyzes the city and class war threatens as the Yale Club of Minneapolis leads an anti-labor March in which two strikers are killed. In West Virginia, John L. Lewis calls a series of strikes against mine operators.

John L. Lewis: (07:05)
If the soldiers come, the mine workers will remain peacefully in their homes, conscious of the fact that [inaudible 00:07:16] in coal mines will not produce coal.

Franklin D. Roosevelt: (07:27)
Our industrial recovery has been, to some extent, retarded by strikes. I would not minimize the inevitable losses to employers and employees and to the general public through such conflicts, but I would point out that the extent and severity of labor disputes during this period has been far less than in any previous comparable.

Speaker 1: (08:04)
In Georgia, Governor Tomich sets up concentration camps for strikers. In New England, a textile trade journal says a few hundred funerals will have a quieting influence. San Francisco is virtually immobilized when the longshoreman under Harry Bridges strike. Says Bridges, “We workers have nothing in common with the employers. We’re in a class struggle.” In the San Francisco strike, a lot of people completely lost their heads and telegraphed me, “For God’s sake. Come back.” Everybody demanded that I sail into San Francisco Bay, all flags flying and guns double shotted, and end the strike. They went completely off the handle.

Speaker 1: (09:14)
Labor has got to learn by going through the actual processes and not by interference from the federal government or from the president or from United States troops. The best customer of American industry is the well paid worker. Our aim must be to achieve and maintain a national economy whose factors are so finally balanced that the worker is always sure of a job which will guarantee a living wage. The wage earners of America will not ask for more. They will not be satisfied with less. The NRA simply isn’t strong enough to enforce the rights of labor. And the Senate passes a bill introduced by Senator Robert F. Wagner of New York City on February 21st, 1935. On July 5th, it becomes a law. Officially called the National Labor Relations Bill, it provides supervised union elections in industrial plants. It creates a judicial board to weigh disputes between labor and management.

Robert F. Wagner: (10:45)
The National Labor Relations Act is now the law of the land. We shall see the dawn of a new era of peace and justice for all in our economic life.

Speaker 1: (11:02)
Says the Oklahoma Manufacturers Association, “The NLRB will out-Stalin, Stalin. Out Soviet the Russian Soviets.” Says the communist daily worker, “It will be a weapon to destroy the power of the workers.”

Robert F. Wagner: (11:22)
A better relationship between labor and management is the high purpose of this act. By assuring the employees the right of collective bargaining, it fosters the development of the employment contract and a sound and equitable basis. It seeks for every worker within its scope, that freedom of choice and action, which is just lay his.

Speaker 1: (11:49)
In the summer of 1935, American labor unions disagree as to whether they should organize by crafts or by entire industries. John L. Lewis, head of the United mine workers, David Dubinsky, President of the International Ladies Garment Workers union, and Sidney Hillman of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, break with the American Federation of Labor. They form the CIO. FDR is careful not to alienate either of the warring labor factions. He walks a political tightrope between the AFL and the CIO. Both have large votes and the 1936 election is coming up.

John L. Lewis: (12:38)
We earnestly hope that the distinguished representatives of the American Federation of Labor will give intelligent analysis to our proposal rather than to continuously attack our motives.

Speaker 1: (12:53)
Anticipating a democratic victory and a favorite place for the CIO. John L. Lewis offered Roosevelt a campaign contribution of $250,000. Replies the politically astute FDR, “No, John, I don’t want your check much as I appreciate it. Just keep it and I’ll call on you if and when any small need arises.” In 1935, FDR turns his attention to the broader aspects of social welfare.

Franklin D. Roosevelt: (13:26)
This social security measure gives at least some protection to 30 millions of our citizens who will reap direct benefits through unemployment compensation, through old age pensions and through increased services for the protection of children and the prevention of ill health.

Speaker 1: (13:49)
FDR’s Social Security Act, overwhelmingly passed by congress in the summer of 1935, provides unemployment and old age pensions, as well as child rearing benefits. The National Association of Manufacturers calls the act, “The ultimate socialistic control of life and industry.” If, as our constitution tells us, our federal government was established among other things to promote the general welfare, it is our plain duty to provide for that security upon which welfare depends. Strengthened by favorable legislation and FDR sweeping victory in 1936, the labor movement introduces a new form of strategy. The sit-down strike.

Speaker 1: (14:51)
Workers occupied plants, refused to move until a settlement is reached. Labor was having its labor pains. It was just beginning to find its power under the new impetus of favorable legislation in the sympathetic government. It had not quite grown up to such power. Industrial plants build up arsenals of gas bonds, machine guns, and rifles. The sit-down strikes plague the nation. In Michigan alone, there are 51 strikes in one month. In Flint, Michigan, Walter Reuther resists a 44 day seize of United Auto Workers at the Chevrolet plant. Sit-down strikes are unpopular. Strikers will finally realize that labor cannot get very far if it makes itself unpopular with the bulk of the population in this country.

John L. Lewis: (16:31)
The struggle in the automobile industry will be fought to a finish. The labor will determine in this issue, whether or not collective bargaining, in the accepted sense of the word, will be established in the automobile industry.

Speaker 1: (16:59)
Walter Reuther and the United Auto Workers gain recognition by the automotive industry. The last of the basic new deal acts. The Wages and Hours Act of 1938 establishes minimum wages. It abolishes lockouts. It ends child labor for all time. The age long curse of child labor has been lifted, the sweatshop outlawed and millions of wage earners released from starvation wages and excessive hours of labor. The pattern of a new order of industrial relations is definitely taking shape. The Hyde Park Squire has traveled far since his first visit to a tenement brought the awakening of his social conscience. He has made it possible for organized labor to become a powerful political force. He has brought dignity and acceptance to the labor movement. Our aim is the advancement of human progress by industrial progress. Always is the duty to work for that happy consummation when bitterness and distrust shall be replaced by mutual respect.

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