Related BLS programs | Related articles
December, 2000, Vol. 123, No. 12
Troubled passage: the labor movement
and the Fair Labor Standards Act
Howard D. Samuel
For most observers, the issue of statutory labor standards is inalterably linked to the labor movement. And indeed it has been, starting early in the 19th Century when the earliest efforts to enact maximum hours legislation took place at the State level, to the year 2000, when raising the minimum wage was once again on the Congressional agenda. Organized labor has played a significant role in supporting the improvement of labor standards for all of this century and a half—with one exception—minimum wages for male workers imposed and enforced by the Federal Government. Starting in 1937, when wage and hour legislation was proposed to apply to all workers—not just women and minors or workers in nonunion companies—and when it was proposed that a Federal agency be created to enforce standards—despite the unwavering support of President Roosevelt, and the dedicated efforts of some labor leaders on behalf of the bill, some elements of the labor movement actively fought the bill, while others held the measure hostage to their specific demands. Labor opponents were not alone, of course. The business community was largely opposed to it, and Southern Democrats often were linked with Republicans in their opposition.
Despite the opposition, however, eventually the Fair Labor Standards Act did pass, and President Roosevelt commented, a few days after he signed it on June 28, 1938, that "I do think that next to the Social Security Act it is the most important Act that has been passed in the last two to three years."1 But it took three sessions of Congress and a monumental effort by the bill’s supporters to get it passed, in no small reason, because of the divisions within the labor movement—which this article explores.
This excerpt is from an article published in the December 2000 issue of the Monthly Labor Review. The full text of the article is available in Adobe Acrobat's Portable Document Format (PDF). See How to view a PDF file for more information.
Read abstract Download full article in PDF (69K)
Acknowledgment: The author wishes to acknowledge the assistance of Dorothy Fisher Weed, librarian, and her colleagues at the Wirtz Labor Library, U.S. Department of Labor, in locating sources for this article, as well as similar assistance by the staff of the George Meany Memorial Archives.
1 Public Papers & Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1938 (New York, NY, Macmillan Co., 1941), p. 404.
Related BLS programs
Related Monthly Labor Review articles
Samuel Gompers: a half-century in labor's front rank.—July 1989.
Within Monthly Labor Review Online:
Welcome | Current Issue | Index | Subscribe | Archives
Exit Monthly Labor Review Online:
BLS Home | Publications & Research Papers