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American Labor and Society in the 1920s Essay

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Updated: Apr 9th, 2021

It is said by some that the American Labor of the 1920s was losing its previously-acquired gains because its mindset was not ideologically on the left. Was this really a cause of Labor problems? In order to not blame the victim, do we need to consider other crucially important causes (at least five of them) as well?

Evidently, the labor unions were declining in terms of popularity and membership, which undermined their relevance. For instance, the union’s membership declined from 8.4% to less than 6% between 1920 and 1930 (Dubofsky and Dulles 88).

We cannot blame the inability of the union leaders to apply a leftist ideology because other factors contributed to the decline of the relevance and membership of the labor unions between 1920 and 1930. Instead, we must consider a number of crucially important causes that led to the decline.

First, the rapid growth of the national economy made the unions lose their relevance. As the economy improved, the issue of management became the most significant task in industries. General prosperity played a significant role. Industrialists like Henry Ford obtained massive profits. They focused on human resources as an important part of management. They paid their workers well, which raised the overall wage level in the country (Dubofsky and Dulles 127).

Secondly, the courts increasingly weakened the previous advantages that the unions had achieved because rulings were made on such issues as child labor and the minimum wage levels.

Thirdly, the role of the National Association of Manufacturers weakened the labor unions. The organization increasingly resisted unionization using the slogan “American Plan,” which discouraged the registration of workers in the labor unions (Dubofsky and Dulles 71). The aim of the plan was to make the American workers believe that labor unions and movements did not represent their interests in the right manner.

The fourth factor was welfare capitalism, a new trend adopted by most businesses in the country. Welfare capitalism encouraged companies to give their workers incentives, which made them avoid unions (Dubofsky and Dulles 88). Workers realized that they were getting most of the benefits that unions were promising, which meant that the relevance of unions was compromised. Companies enticed their workers with additional benefits such as profit-sharing plans, pension schemes, better housing, improved safety as well as recreational services.

Finally, the US economy and society were undergoing rapid evolution after the First World War. European nations were still suffering from the aftermath of the war, with large numbers of their populations relocating to the US. The increasing number of expatriates, workers, and other individuals from Europe changed the focus on unions because the idea of Americanism became stronger than unionization (Dubofsky and Dulles 56).

In the 1920s there were many real and even fictional individuals, including Mitchell Palmer, Herbert Hoover, Henry Ford, George Babbitt, Scott Fitzgerald, Bruce Barton, Samuel Gompers, William Z. Foster, and the leaders of KKK, all of whom were eager and willing to define Americanism. Any thoughts about those definitions?

Henry Ford, a great industrialist, is a good example of the individuals who gave meaning to Americanism. Ford made considerable economic contributions by producing an automobile that was affordable and less complicated. However, he had an anti-Semitic attitude. In 1920, he published an article called “Jewish menace” in his ‘Dearborn Independent’ newspaper (Lee 18). This article gave birth to a book called ‘International Jews,’ which exposed “Jewish inspired evils” (Lee 24).

Secondly, the Kukulaxklan (KKK), a group of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants who terrorized the free black Americans and their white sympathizers, contributed to the definition of Americanism. This was the second KKK uprising in the US. It advocated for 100% Americanism, demanding purification of politics and enforcement of prohibition (Pegram 37). The Americanization of the KKK movement used nativism and anti-Catholicism, arguing that America was a purely white protestant nation (Pegram 39). It was also involved in violent activities, especially in the South.

Mitchell Palmer, a former attorney general, led the famous “Palmer Raids” that involved the deportation of members of the radical groups considered non-Americans. Among them were the Bolsheviks and other anarchist groups. Several groups were raided, and members were deported. Palmer’s work defined Americanism by deporting the foreign groups, although his efforts later raised criticism and protests.

In his famous novel “The Great Gasby,” Scott Fitzgerald defined Americanism as full of materialism and desire for the creation of wealth. He described the notion of wealth accumulation, romance, and capitalism as an American culture that promoted selfishness and focuses on corporate and personal life (Bloom 6).

Works Cited

Bloom, Harold. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s the Great Gatsby. Washington, DC: Infobase Publishing, 2008. Print.

Dubofsky, Melvyn and Foster Rhea Dulles. Labor in America: A History. New York: Cengage Learning, 2012. Print.

Lee, Albert. Henry Ford and the Jews. New York: Stein and Day, 2009. Print

Pegram, Thomas. One Hundred Percent American: The Rebirth and Decline of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2011. Print

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