Young Franklin Delano Roosevelt was politically impartial to helping laborers.[1]Tammany district boss, George Washington Plunkitt, helped change the political perspective of FDR.[2] During the United States Depression, FDR eventually became the voice which brought back the crippled labor workforce, and he helped lay the foundation for collective bargaining for the American worker.[3]

            During the coal strike of 1902, FDR criticized his cousin, President Theodore Roosevelt, for getting involved with the strike on behalf of the American workers.[4] As a law student at Harvard University, Franklin Roosevelt was politically conservative but he received beneficial political advice from a Tammany district boss named George Plunkitt.[5] Mr. Plunkitt suggested that a true political education came from listening to the people.[6] Franklin Roosevelt heeded such advice during his political career, and made a point to understand the concerns of the American people.[7]

            During 1913, Franklin Roosevelt was the Assistant Secretary of the United State’s Navy under President Woodrow Wilson.[8] During such employment, FDR learned to listen to the worker and to the complaints of organized labor.[9] Franklin had to deal with the organized pressure of the Navy League of the United States, which was mainly comprised of steel and shipping merchants and industry leaders. He once told a group of machinists “I want you all to feel that you can come to me at any time in my office and we can talk matters over.”[10] FDR carried the Navy experience into his position as United States President.[11]

            During January 1933, America was involved in an economic catastrophe.[12] Factory production, retail trade and stocks and bonds were all down. There were nearly fifteen million unemployed people in America.[13] Franklin Delano Roosevelt became the 32nd President of the United States on March 4, 1933, during the precarious time of America’s Great Depression.[14] After FDR accepted his presidential oath of office, he gave a speech which indicated his main focus was “to put people to work.”[15] Within little than a month of taking his oath of office, FDR, with Congressional consensus, provided mortgage relief for farmers, implemented the civilian conservation corps; which was geared to put a quarter of a million people to work doing reforestation projects by the summer of 1933; and FDR also sought and received five hundred million dollars through the Federal Emergency Relief Fund which provided unemployment relief, via federal grants, to the states.[16] During the first 100 days of taking office, FDR had inconsistencies with his economic agenda regarding government spending geared to help the people, such as a monthly monetary decrease in the disabled benefits for war veterans, but, overall, FDR gave the American people hope.[17]

            One of the more difficult groups FDR had to deal with was organized labor.[18]The Depression had drained the hope, strength and morale from organized labor.[19] President FDR sought to “cement our society, rich and poor, manual worker and brain worker, into a brotherhood of freemen, standing together, striving together, for the common good of all.”[20] FDR introduced the National Recovery Administration, which was part of his New Deal agenda. General Hugh S. Johnson, a West Point graduate, was appointed to lead the government program. The NRA had many responsibilities which included relaxing anti-trust laws for businesses, so they could develop business codes that were supposed to eliminate wasteful competition, and provide shorter hours, better working conditions and a higher wage for the American worker.[21] The National Recovery Administration aimed to help the American economy get back on track, and in the process the Administration ultimately provided the American worker with a sense of duty to their country.[22] The NRA iron eagle symbol promoted unity throughout the nation and symbolized a new hope for the economy.[23] The iron eagle was everywhere. The eagle was affixed on storefronts, displayed in movies and printed on magazine covers. The eagle was a national call of arms which promoted work.[24] Instead of General Johnson working directly with the working people to understand their concerns, he mainly worked with business and labor executives. Towards the end of 1933, the American worker developed negative sentiment towards the program.[25]The worker felt the program did not protect the best interest of the American worker, but, instead, the program supported the ambitions of the powerful industries.[26] William Connery, chairman of the House Labor Committee, asked Roosevelt to inform Johnson to work with “true representatives” of labor.[27]  By the end of 1933, the symbolic eagle was fluttering and the power of the NRA was trimmed down by FDR.[28]

            Despite certain misgivings associated with the NRA, the program’s agenda trickled into American shops and factories.[29] The NRA act included a valuable piece of legislation, framed by Congressmen and labor leaders, known as Section 7a. The section provided that “employees shall have the right to organize and bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and shall be free from the interference, restraint, or coercion of employers of labor, or their agents, in the designation of such representatives.”[30] Section 7a was used as a bargaining tool which prompted organized labor to fully support the NRA. Labor organizers designed posters which said “President Roosevelt Wants You to Join the Union.”[31]

            Section 7a developed into the Wagner Labor Relations Act, which became a permanent law regarding the collective bargaining rights for the American worker.[32] FDR was initially reluctant to back the Wagner bill before it became a law; he was more of an onlooker during the political process since the internal politics of the unions did not interest him too much.[33] FDR finally realized the political importance of helping the millions of workers in their great areas of industry and put his full presidential power behind the Act.[34]

            FDR and his New Deal agenda helped create the labor movement in America.[35] Section 7a and the Wagner Act strengthened unions.[36] As a young student, FDR understood the lesson preached by George Plunkitt. Franklin Delano Roosevelt continued to listen to the people as his political career developed throughout the years.[37]

 

 

 

 

 



[1] Burns, James MacGregor, Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox, 1882-1940; Volume One of the First Complete Biography of FDR (San                          Diego, New York and London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1956) pgs. 20, 42, 52

 

[2]“Ibid.” pgs. 21, 53,173

 

[3] “Ibid.” pg. 216-220

[4] “Ibid.” pg. 20

[5] “Ibid.” pgs. 20-21

[6] “Ibid.” pg. 21

[7] “Ibid.” pgs. 52, 173

[8] “Ibid.” pgs. 49- 50

[9] “Ibid. pg. 52

[10] “Ibid.”

[11] “Ibid.” pgs. 51-53, 179

[12] “Ibid.” pg 146

[13] “Ibid.”

[14] “Ibid.” pg. 123-125, 133, 163

[15] “Ibid.” pg. 164

[16] “Ibid.” pgs. 168-170

[17] “Ibid.” pg. 168,172, 215

[18] “Ibid. pg. 52

[19] “Ibid.” pg. 215

[20] “Ibid.” pg. 183

[21] “Ibid.” pg. 191-192

[22] “Ibid.” pg. 192

[23] “Ibid.”

[24] “Ibid.”

[25] “Ibid.” pg. 193

[26] “Ibid.” pg. 192-193

[27] “Ibid.” pg. 193

[28] “Ibid.”

[29] “Ibid.”

[30] “Ibid.” pg. 215-216

[31] “Ibid.” pg. 216

[32] “Ibid.” pg. 224

[33] “Ibid.” pg. 217

[34] “Ibid.” pgs. 217-220

[35] “Ibid.” pg. 350

[36] “Ibid.”

[37] “Ibid.” pgs. 21, 450