Realizing the American Dream
American workers dreamed of the day when everyone would have a chance to succeed. They wanted a fair chance of getting hired - whatever their race or gender happened to be. They dreamed of getting a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. They dreamed of making a living that let them buy what they needed and left a little extra. They dreamed of a workplace that was safe and time off for sickness or emergencies. Union efforts during Roosevelt's New Deal in the 1930's began thirty years of involvement that made most of these dreams into realities for all workers, not just for union members.
Fair Pay and Fair Treatment
In the 1930's, organized labor spoke out for workers, retirees and the unemployed. Politicians listened. The Social Security Act (1935) was part of President Franklin Roosevelt's second New Deal. It created national unemployment insurance and pensions for workers. The 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act set a national minimum wage. It called for a maximum of 44 hours of work per week and overtime pay at time and a half. It also banned most child labor.
The National War Labor Board was formed to keep work stoppages from slowing down production during World War II. The Board set a ceiling on wage increases for union workers. Employers could not offer workers more money so they offered health benefits, sick days, and paid vacations instead. Non-union companies offered the same benefits to attract good workers.
The AFL and the CIO successfully worked on more retirement issues in the early 1950's. Social Security expanded to cover more workers with old age and survivor's insurance benefits. Unions also worked on an old-age health care program. This influenced the plan that later became Medicare.
The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and the CIO tried to organize members of all races and nationalities. Women and minority members swelled the ranks of all unions after World War II. In 1955 the newly-merged AFL-CIO formed a civil rights committee, to seek out and end racial discrimination in member unions. The United Auto Workers (UAW), the Negro American Labor Council, and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters sponsored the civil rights March on Washington in 1963. Over time, unions expanded to include service workers, farmers and food handlers. They struck for the rights of sanitation workers and migrant workers to be treated with dignity and fairness.
The United Mine Workers struck for better mine safety standards in the 1960's. Other strikes were held over the safety of cotton and asbestos workers. Congress created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in 1970. Its purpose is to make sure that working conditions are safe and healthful. It does this by setting and enforcing standards. OSHA provides assistance to employees and businesses.
See photos from the period to see what life was like for the working Americans.
No photos have been added to this exhibit.
No oral histories to display.