The Public Interest

Blacks and labor—the untold story

Ken I. Kersch

Summer 2002

THE National Recovery Administration, or “NRA,” a linch-pin of Franklin Roosevelt’s First Hundred Days, did not fare well in the African-American press. “Negro Removal Act,” “Negroes Ruined Again,” and “Negroes Robbed Again,” were only a few of the epithets launched at what many blacks took to be a poisoned spoonful of alphabet soup. The NRA, a component of the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), was a giant step toward a European-style welfare state: It created national minimum-wage and maximum-hours laws, it guaranteed collective-bargaining rights and industrial production codes, and it poured vast amounts of tax dollars into public-works projects. When, on “Black Monday,” the Supreme Court struck down the NIRA as unconstitutional, no one cheered more heartily than American blacks. And when the NIRA’s collective-bargaining provisions were later resurrected as part of the Wagner Act, African Americans were dismayed. The National Urban League, the NAACP, and other civil-rights organizations vehemently opposed it.

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