The AFL successfully proposed an important, and controversial, amendment to the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 once it reached Congress. It insisted that language from the pro-labor Norris-LaGuardia Act of 1932 be added to the simple declaration of the right to collective bargaining in section 7(a). The additional clause stated that employees "shall be free from the interference, restraint, or coercion of employers of labor or their agents..." (Bernstein 1969, p. 31). Moreover, the AFL wanted a seemingly small change in a clause in the Norris-LaGuardia Act stating that "no employee and no one seeking employment shall be required as a condition of employment to join any organization or to refrain from joining a labor organization of his own choosing." In a phrase aimed directly at the Rockefeller industrial relations network, the AFL demanded that the word "organization" be replaced by "company union," which raised the corporate moderates' hackles immediately (Bernstein 1969, p. 31). But the AFL's amendments made it into the bill passed by the House despite the NAM's desire to eliminate section 7(a) entirely. However, at this moment NAM did not have the support of its temporarily more moderate ally, the Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber remained neutral because it had made a private agreement with the AFL that it would accept the collective bargaining provision in exchange for labor's support for the price-setting provisions (Bernstein 1950, p. 35).
Once the National Industrial Recovery Act passed, the moderate conservatives and ultraconservatives reacted very differently to the success of the liberal-labor alliance in carving out a small space for union initiatives within the framework of the National Recovery Administration (NRA). The corporate moderates believed they could live with collective bargaining if they had to, an attitude reinforced by the way in which the Railway Labor Act of 1926 had led to a moderate railroad unionism focused on a few skilled jobs. They also had confidence that employee representation plans, as honed by the efforts of the IRC, could keep out independent unions. Most of all, corporate moderates believed they had won the day against unionism. Thus, historian Robert Himmelberg (1976/1993, p. 107) concludes that "few" corporate reformers felt modification of the new language in section 7(a) was an "absolute condition" for their support of the whole bill.
For all the AFL's hopes, pure and simple trade unionism for skilled workers organized into craft unions did not enjoy much success against big industrial companies in its first decade. The problems are seen in the sudden collapse of the Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel and Tin Workers, which provided the AFL with 10% of its members and had a contract with Andrew Carnegie's steel companies. When the union refused to accept the introduction of highly profitable new technology and changes in wage rates in 1892, Carnegie and his executives in effect forced a strike by cutting wages by nearly 18% at the Carnegie Steel Works in Homestead, Pennsylvania.
The ensuing confrontation led to the deaths of ten workers and three of the 300 armed Pinkerton Detective Agency guards that had been brought in to attack the strikers (Bernstein 1969, pp. 432-434; Scheinberg 1986, pp. 7-9). Eight thousand members of the Pennsylvania National Guard then occupied Homestead; the nationwide union was but a shell thereafter (e.g., Dubofsky and Dulles 2004, pp. 153-170). In 1893-1894, when an estimated 150,000 workers in the railroad industry went on strike to protest wage cuts in the midst of a severe depression, roughly 32,000 state troopers were called out in 20 of the 27 states affected, along with nearly 16,000 federal soldiers out of an available regular force of 20,000 (e.g., Cooper 1980, pp. 144-164; Lambert 2005, pp. 58-63).
Less the reminders of properties told my words,
And more the reminders they of life untold, and of freedom and extrication,
And make short account of neuters and geldings, and favor men and
women fully equipt,
And beat the gong of revolt, and stop with fugitives and them that
plot and conspire.
In contrast to the story told by free-market advocates, the union activists asserted that they had been dispossessed, which they cast as a threat to the United States as a Republic because it stripped them of their rights and independence as free white male citizens. The defense of labor was thereby equated with the defense of American republican government (Voss 1993, pp. 29-36). Although there were strikes by carpenters, shoe binders, textile workers, and tailors in defense of what they claimed to be their republican rights, the attempts to organize in any serious way ended abruptly with the onset of the nation's first industrial depression in 1837. After all, workers in a slack economy stand even less of a chance than workers in a strong economy when few people are unemployed. Many local craft organizations were disbanded. The efforts at unionization were not revived until after the Civil War.
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I am of old and young, of the foolish as much as the wise,
Regardless of others, ever regardful of others,
Maternal as well as paternal, a child as well as a man,
Stuff'd with the stuff that is coarse and stuff'd with the stuff
that is fine,
One of the Nation of many nations, the smallest the same and the
largest the same,
A Southerner soon as a Northerner, a planter nonchalant and
hospitable down by the Oconee I live,
A Yankee bound my own way ready for trade, my joints the limberest
joints on earth and the sternest joints on earth,
A Kentuckian walking the vale of the Elkhorn in my deer-skin
leggings, a Louisianian or Georgian,
A boatman over lakes or bays or along coasts, a Hoosier, Badger, Buckeye;
At home on Kanadian snow-shoes or up in the bush, or with fishermen
At home in the fleet of ice-boats, sailing with the rest and tacking,
At home on the hills of Vermont or in the woods of Maine, or the
Comrade of Californians, comrade of free North-Westerners, (loving
their big proportions,)
Comrade of raftsmen and coalmen, comrade of all who shake hands
and welcome to drink and meat,
A learner with the simplest, a teacher of the thoughtfullest,
A novice beginning yet experient of myriads of seasons,
Of every hue and caste am I, of every rank and religion,
A farmer, mechanic, artist, gentleman, sailor, quaker,
Prisoner, fancy-man, rowdy, lawyer, physician, priest.
Thus, the process and content of collective bargaining is actually a complicated power relationship that embodies the strengths and weaknesses of both sides. Its existence reveals the power of labor, but the narrowness of the unions and the substance of what is bargained about reflect the power of capital. Collective bargaining is "both a result of labor's power as well as a vehicle to control workers' struggles and channel them in a path compatible with capitalist development" (Ramirez 1978, p. 215). Drawing on Kimeldorf's (2013) new formulation concerning the importance of replacement costs in union success in that era, Ramirez's point can be generalized to say that unionization is possible when workers can exercise a disruptive potential that threatens profits. That is, the unions that were organized in the late ninetieth and early twentieth centuries had a high disruptive capacity that was rooted in the difficulty (and thus high costs) of finding replacement workers in the face of strikes. Sometimes these replacement costs were due to skill barriers, as in the case of the typographers and construction workers mentioned earlier, but replacement costs could also be high for companies that had fast turn-around times or had geographically isolated work sites that scared away potential replacement workers.
Perhaps most important in the North, as in the confederacy, was the role-played by the government in stimulating economic growth. Southern Democrats had dominated Congress and executive branch until the 1850s. They blocked measures such as the protective tariff, a national banking system, and railroad subsidies. The Republicans were in control. They favored industrialization and economic growth. To further their aims, they adopted the Morrill Tariff of 1861, which raised duties. They passed the National Banking Acts of 1863 and 1864: these aided national banks at the expense of state banks. In addition, congress awarded land-grant subsidies to transcontinental railroad and stimulated western settlement with the 1862 Homestead Act, which offered land to settlers at nominal sums. (North,p.225)
Within this limited perspective, the NCF and other corporate moderates seemed to be having at least some success in their first two years. Leaders in the new employers' associations not only signed agreements with their workers, but spoke favorably of the NCF and its work. None was in a major mass-production industry, however, and the new era did not last very long. As the unions' membership grew and they began making more demands, the employers' dislike of unions resurfaced accordingly. In other words, class conflict once again emerged, which soon led to organized opposition to unions within the very same employer associations that had been created to encourage trade agreements. This sequence of events reveals the difficulties of maintaining cross-class coalitions, which were to break down more often than not in future decades as well. Either the workers try to impose conditions that employers find unreasonable, or else some employers, known as "chiselers" in that era, try to gain market share or earn higher profits by undercutting the terms of the agreement.