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American Labour and Consensus Capitalism, 1935–1990 by Patrick Renshaw

By Patrick Renshaw

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A long step towards implementing this right was taken quickly with the celebrated Section 7(a) of the National Industrial Recovery Act. The NIRA, the Roosevelt administration's first experiment in overall economic control, was born of highly complex manoeuvring. In March 1933 Hugo Black and William P. Connery Jr introduced a bill in Congress to establish the thirty-hour week which the AFL had been demanding to spread work and relieve unemployment. Roosevelt was very sceptical of its value unless it included provision for maintaining wages for the hourly paid - always a problem when reformers reduced hours.

No one had really attempted this since William Sylvis and the short-lived National Labor Union in the 1860s. The Knights of Labor had spoken in the 1880s of forging 'a connecting link between all branches of honourable toil'. But their failure, and that of the IWW later, had demonstrated the dangers of industrial unionism. AFL hostility to the idea had shown itself earlier in the New Deal by its reaction to the upsurge of new industrial unions stimulated by the NRA and Section 7(a). The AFL leaders had shunted these new unions off into so-called Federal unions, directly affiliated to the AFL, until jurisdictional problems could be resolved.

In 1933, his view of the present was clear. 'Cut-throat competition makes the unscrupulous employer the leader in each industry', Hillman observed, 'and the rest willingly or otherwise follow'. 18 The businessman who cut wages had the further satisfaction of knowing he was following the injunction of orthodox economics that the effort to maintain low wage rates increased employment. 16 AMERICAN LABOUR AND CONSENSUS CAPITALISM 'Really to control unemployment,' Hillman concluded, 'we must think and act in terms of economic planning;' and 'voluntary ...

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