National Recovery Administration.

January 25, 2009 at 1:06 pm | Posted in Historical, Labor | 1 Comment
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Cartoon shows President Franklin D. Roosevelt singing a song entitled Recovery, recovery, of thee I sing. The sheet music indicates that the words and music are by the Roosevelt Administration. Dame Democracy enthusiastically plays the piano while Roosevelts old opponent for the Democratic nomination, former New York governor, Al Smith, sits glumly in the background. By midsummer 1933, the first year of his presidency, the Roosevelt Administration had passed a record amount of legislation designed to counteract the Depression. Although Smith had supported Roosevelt during his campaign, he soon became disenchanted with Roosevelts New Deal programs.  July 11, 1933.  (Clifford Kennedy Berryman, artist)

Cartoon shows President Franklin D. Roosevelt singing a song entitled "Recovery, recovery, of thee I sing." The sheet music indicates that the "words and music" are by the "Roosevelt Administration." Dame Democracy enthusiastically plays the piano while Roosevelt's old opponent for the Democratic nomination, former New York governor, Al Smith, sits glumly in the background. By midsummer 1933, the first year of his presidency, the Roosevelt Administration had passed a record amount of legislation designed to counteract the Depression. Although Smith had supported Roosevelt during his campaign, he soon became disenchanted with Roosevelt's New Deal programs. July 11, 1933. (Clifford Kennedy Berryman, artist)

Did you know that in 1933 President Franklin Roosevelt created the National Recovery Administration (NRA)? The purpose of the NRA was to organize “thousands of businesses under fair trade codes drawn up by trade associations and industries.

As part of the NRA legislation, Congress passed laws setting a 40 hour week for clerical workers, a 36 hour week for industry workers, a minimum wage of 40 cents an hour, abolishing child labor, and guaranteeing workers the right to unionize and engage in collective bargaining.

Mr. President, we dont want anything - We just want to grow up.  Crowd of emaciated, crippled child laborrers petitioning Woodrow Wilson.  (1913)

"Mr. President, we don't want anything - We just want to grow up." Crowd of emaciated, crippled "child laborrers" petitioning Woodrow Wilson. (1913)

That’s right. Not until 1933 was child labor banned in the United States. Alexander Hamilton, the first United States Treasury Secretary, believed there was “virtue” in child labor, declaring that “women and children are rendered more useful, and the latter more early useful, by manufacturing establishments, than they otherwise would be.

Although voluntary, about 23,000,000 jobs were governed by NRA code.  Participating businesses could display the NRA blue eagle symbol in their window or on their packaging. The public favored businesses that displayed the NRA symbol, considering those that didn’t to be “unpatriotic and selfish.”

Former coal miner, worked twelve years for Chaplin Coal Company as hand coal loader. He and several others complained to company about conditions not being up to NRA (National Recovery Administration) standards. All lost jobs. Hes now on WPA (Works Progress Administration) at thirty-eight dollars and twenty-five cents per month. Scotts Run, West Virginia.  September 1938.

Former coal miner, worked twelve years for Chaplin Coal Company as hand coal loader. He and several others complained to company about conditions not being up to NRA (National Recovery Administration) standards. All lost jobs. He's now on WPA (Works Progress Administration) at thirty-eight dollars and twenty-five cents per month. Scotts Run, West Virginia. September 1938.

All was not rosy, however.  Business and corporate interests thought the whole thing a bad idea. Upon advice from Bernard Baruch, President Roosevelt appointed former Army General Hugh Johnson to head up the newly-created federal agency.

General Johnson was no friend of unions.  When he arrived in San Francisco in 1934 to mediate the general strike that had started with the longshoremen, he sided with the anti-unionists and helped spin public sentiment against the strikers, announcing to the press, “When the means of food supply – milk for children – necessities of life to the whole people are threatened, that is bloody insurrection.”

The strike had not in fact interrupted milk delivery.  All fundamental public services continued to function uninterrupted.  There had been no violence. But the public was turned against the strikers by General Johnson and others fanning the flames of fear and insecurity.

Aw, youre not getting anywhere! Cartoon shows Uncle Sam as a painter, attempting to paint the letters NRA across a map of the United States. A small man labeled Impatience, (probably General Hugh Johnson, director of the NRA) jumps up and down, stepping on Uncle Sams fingers as he does so. The National Recovery Administration, one of the first New Deal programs, was established to negotiate code agreements designed to stimulate industrial recovery. Johnson attacked his job with demonic energy, but his failure to develop a coherent policy impeded the progress of the program, and Roosevelt replaced him after a year. (cartoon published 1933 or 1934; Lute Pease, artist)

"Aw, you're not getting anywhere!" Cartoon shows Uncle Sam as a painter, attempting to paint the letters "NRA" across a map of the United States. A small man labeled "Impatience," (probably General Hugh Johnson, director of the NRA) jumps up and down, stepping on Uncle Sam's fingers as he does so. The National Recovery Administration, one of the first New Deal programs, was established to negotiate code agreements designed to stimulate industrial recovery. Johnson attacked his job with "demonic energy," but his failure to develop a coherent policy impeded the progress of the program, and Roosevelt replaced him after a year. (cartoon published 1933 or 1934; Lute Pease, artist)

By September 1934, President Roosevelt moved General Johnson to a less prominent position in the Works Progress Administration (later Works Projects Administration, or the WPA).

As terrific an idea as the NRA was at inception, the execution guaranteed its failure.

“Under NRA supervision, each sector of the economy developed a code to govern itself. Corporations, especially the biggest ones, were happy with this plan, designed by Johnson and [Bernard] Baruch. Industries devised their own production standards, fixed prices and set wages. And, once they agreed to abide by their sector’s code, they were exempt from antitrust laws. To many, this was indistinguishable from having illegal monopolies and trusts.”

As appalling as many of Bernard Baruch’s acts and statements might have been, he was responsible for at least one good deed. In 1946 he proposed the establishment of an international atomic development authority “that would control all activities dangerous to world security and possess the power to license and inspect all other nuclear projects.”

The Baruch Plan, in Baruch’s words “the last, best hope of earth,” deviated from the optimistic tone of the Acheson-Lilienthal plan, which had intentionally remained silent on enforcement, and set specific penalties for violations such as illegally owning atomic bombs.64 Baruch argued that the United Nations should not allow members to use the veto to protect themselves from penalties for atomic energy violations; he held that simple majority rule should prevail in this area. As on enforcement, the Acheson-Lilienthal report had studiously avoided comment on the veto issue.

In September 1935 the Supreme Court declared the NRA unconstitutional, ruling that it  was “an illegal delegation of legislative authority” and that the federal government was interfering with  states’ authority.

The struggles American workers face today are not new. 
Worker protections achieved in the 1930s are under significant attack.

Better understanding our history is important to making better, more informed choices today. I encourage you to read the more complete information at the different links.

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  1. […] later, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Published August 29, 1941. Rollin Kirby, artist. In 1940, [Hugh] Johnson was on the national board of the America First Committee (AFC) with Gen. Robert Wood, head of Sears […]


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