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People Like Ourselves: Forecast for Survey Graphic

by Paul Kellogg

November 1935

Labor and Collective Bargaining

Forget your political geography and conceive of the "Industrial States of America" as they might appear to a young generation looking for jobs. Spread out our major industries in such a way as to show the status of their workers after the manner of the Geologic Survey. The contour lines might indicate the ups and downs of livelihood as reckoned in wages. Or they might stand for levels of labor organization, even more a broken country of hills and valleys.

ln a sense the NRA exhibited these things in bold relief. With the collapse of Section 7-a, interest and tension shifted back to the industries themselves, where hiring and firing go forward, and with it the struggle for an organized footing on the part of wage earners. There is clash over company unions and "bargaining agencies," the split between old craft and new vertical unions, the thrust of left-wings. The growth of pressure groups is a story in itself.

Here are the building trades of our cities, usually strongly unionized, often with the upper hand in agreements with their employers but split in their own ranks. Here are the railway brotherhoods moving over to give a place to a Negro union under the new set-up in transportation... Here are the garment trades with their advanced union-management collaboration; steel with its tradition of suppression; coal with its industrial unionism; autos, typical of the new mass production industries, which rely chiefly on semi-skilled and "unrecognized" labor. Here is the hitherto unorganized South, balking at unionization among textile workers and share-croppers, with Georgia unearthing an old insurrection law that goes back to the days of slavery; here the mass agriculture of the Southwest, with its throw-back to the vigilantism of the Gold Rush days in combating efforts to organize the crop pickers.

With all this in flux, enter the new National Labor Relations Board, limited to situations affecting interstate commerce, whatever that may come to mean; empowered to investigate charges of unfair labor practice, to issue cease and desist orders, to proceed in the courts to enforce them, and to hold elections for the purpose of deciding who are the workers' representatives.


Kay Davis, University of Virginia, © 2001-2003