Wagner-Connery Act

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Delegates to 1st CIO Convention.jpg
Delegates to the 1st Ohio Industrial Union Council (also known as the Ohio CIO) convention, Cleveland,

Cuyahoga County, Ohio, 1938.

On June 13, 1933, the United States Congress passed the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA). The NIRA was part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal. Roosevelt hoped that his New Deal would allow Americans to cope with the Great Depression, would help end the current economic downturn, and would help prevent another depression from occurring in the future.

The NIRA had three components to it. First, the federal government, through the National Recovery Administration, would help businesses establish a means to regulate themselves and to guarantee fair trade. Roosevelt hoped that businesses, by engaging in fairer business practices that would encourage friendly rather than cut-throat competition, would help reduce unemployment and stimulate the economy. If a business agreed to follow the new code, the federal government would exempt it from antitrust laws. Second, the NIRA recognized laborers' right to unionize. A new National Labor Board, chaired by United States Senator Robert F. Wagner, would enforce this part of the statute. Finally, the NIRA created the Public Works Administration. Under this part of the act, the federal government was to provide 3.3 billion dollars to hire Americans to work on public works projects. These projects ranged from sidewalks and school buildings to dams.

In 1935, the United States Supreme Court declared the NIRA unconstitutional. According to the court, the federal government-especially the president-had assumed powers that the United States Constitution did not grant. In particular, the first part of the NIRA allowed the federal government to regulate businesses that did not engage in interstate commerce. Although the United States Supreme Court struck down the National Industrial Recovery Act on constitutional grounds, the United States Congress quickly implemented the Wagner-Connery Act. It was introduced by Senator Wagner, the head of the now defunct National Labor Board. This legislation legalized unions once again and created the National Labor Relations Board, which was to supervise laborers' negotiations with their employers, to guarantee collective bargaining, and to prevent employers from engaging in unfair labor practices.

The NIRA and the Wagner-Connery Act caused tremendous change within the United States, including in Ohio. Workers across the United States descended upon the American Federation of Labor's (AFL) offices, seeking to join this union. Unfortunately for the workers, most of these people were unskilled, and the AFL only accepted skilled workers. As a result of the AFL's unwillingness to accept unskilled workers, these employees formed their own unions to seek better working conditions and wages. The NIRA and the Wagner-Connery Act resulted in a division among AFL members, as some members began to call for a more inclusive union-one that would fight for the rights of unskilled workers, rather than just workers skilled in a particular craft. Tensions over this issue became so prevalent that, in 1935, John L. Lewis, an AFL member, formed the Committee for Industrial Organization. Originally this organization was a part of the AFL, but in 1937, the parent organization expelled all members of the Committee for Industrial Organization. The Committee for Industrial Organization eventually became the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). The AFL and the CIO remained as two separate organizations until 1955, when the two unions reunited together as the AFL-CIO.

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