Steve Fraser is the author of Labor Will Rule: Sidney
Hillman and the Rise of American Labor and the co-editor of The Rise and Fall of the New Deal Order. He is editor-
at-large for the journal New Labor Forum.
The era of Franklin D. Roosevelt transformed the power of workers to achieve a better life. The New Deal facilitated the mass organization of the industrial working class into militant unions and also relied on the state through measures such as the Fair Labor Standards Act and Social Security. But though the New Deal of the 1930s is often remembered as the zenith of progressivism, in many ways World War II marked the high point of this collaboration. Ironically, the war's strengthened military-industrial complex also proved its undoing.
Once upon a time -- as in long, long ago -- all presidents and presidential candidates were expected to have an answer for the “labor question.” Nowadays, not only are there no answers, there's scarcely a question, at least not one demanding enough to command prolonged attention in this election year.
Unasked, unanswerable, yet inescapable! Jobless recovery, the most lopsided distribution of wealth and income in the industrialized world, tens of millions of the working poor, mass transfusions of American jobs abroad, a health system that could pass as a form of social triage -- the list goes on and on. And it includes a labor movement so anemic it stands by helplessly watching the achievements of generations go up in smoke.