The Great Depression; Interview with Harold Ruttenberg. Part 4
The Wagner Act came into existence as a consequence of the Supreme Court outlawing the NRA, the Blue Eagle. And in order to get the Wagner Act passed through Congress, why, it had to exclude farm workers, because you had such a large number of members of the Senate and the House who came from those, from rural areas that they, that the, you just had to cut. You couldn't get the farm workers included because you couldn't get the bill passed with it. So you had to get what you could get. And, and that's the reason why the Wagner Act, initially, did not cover farm workers. Then when the La Follette Committee was brought into existence, and they would investigate the, the Chicago and Memorial Day Massacre, the steel workers at Republic Steel, the same La Follette Committee didn't go into the farm areas to investigate the persecutions and the repressions there for similar reasons, because they were always dependent upon continuing resolutions from the Senate to stay in existence. And the time had not come yet, and while we started to develop democracy in the steel towns and auto towns by electing local officials to the courts and to the sheriffs and to the city councils, and, and so forth it was a generation later before that did it the, the effort to bring democracy to, to the, the black individuals in the country and to the farm areas was possible. But it wasn't possible in the thirties because of the political situation. You still had a substantial control in, in the House and Senate, of the, of the rural areas. America was still a substantially rural country politically at that time.
Let's stop for just a second, again. That was perfect.
The, the La Follette Committee had its grant from the House and Senate, and the opposition to the whole idea, civil rights in the, in the Delta for example, in, in the South among farm workers, agricultural farmers, workers, was such that the La Follette Committee's existence depended upon getting resolutions of continuance from the Senate all the time to stay in power. And it just wasn't politic for them to, to do that. And that, that restricted them from being of assistance to bringing civil liberties in, into the rural farm workers' homes. It wasn't possible to do it politically, even under Roosevelt in the mid-1930s.
Now do you have anything else? We can just continue to roll. Do you have anything else that you feel I need to know that I'm missing, and if you need to think about it, we can stop.
In, in, in the Steel Workers Organizing Committee, from the day that the contract was signed with U.S., Steel which was March of 1937, the union adopted union management cooperation to increase productivity so as to increase the ability of companies to grant wages and social benefits to our members. And that was the operating policy of the union in '37, '38, '39, '40, '41. When the war came along, and they needed war, needed more steel for war production, we put on a \"Steel for Victory\" drive in the steel industry that got steel way beyond what had ever been produced from the same facilities before. For example, in July and August, the hot months, steel production always fell off. In the summer of nineteen hundred and forty-three, steel production was higher in August and September than it'd been in any cold months. And the union was prepared and able to do that because we had over four hundred joint committees in the plants and fabricating plants doing, making munitions. And that continued as union policy right through the war. And that at the end of the war, Murray was confronted with continuing that policy to increasing the ultimate aims and objectives of the steel workers union from merely selling labor for a price to having labor participate in the production process, so that they would be able to increase productivity and have a method of compensation so they would get the benefits of the increased productivity. And at that, and at that point, why, the, Philip Murray for his own reasons, which I am now just completing a book telling about this whole story from the inside, decided not to go ahead with that. And while he had, was a great leader, had a touch of greatness, had an enormous success as a labor leader in building up the steel workers union and then heading the CIO for many years, as he did after Lewis resigned from the CIO, he missed the opportunity of going into a higher level of objective for the union.
Let's stop just a second. How much we got?
—WPA, that the government was assuming responsibility, and the government has been a part of the social, providing social benefits to this country ever since. And they call it entitlements. \"Entitlements\" is a fancy way of saying \"taking away from the poor people something they already got,\" you see, because you make it impersonal. It's \"entitlements.\"
That last little bit was wild. Didn't know, it seemed like maybe it was going to be good description, so rolled on it. And we'll say that take eleven is still up. Camera did not roll on that.
The democracy took on an economic and social meaning out of the Depression. It gave to the political scene of democracy the role of the government helping to do things, helping agriculture, helping industry, helping workers, and all kinds of legislation. What it did for the individuals and the, and the families is that it taught them organization so that as they went on in their lives, they organized for all kinds of purposes. And if ever there's a country that has organizations, this country does. It has a multiplicity of organizations, each with a specific agenda, and, and that is a legacy of the Depression, that it brought out and gave confidence that you can go out and organize your own group and go advocate your, your, your position, and you keep advocating, and you're going to get some success. Also, you can advocate that the government take on responsibilities that they never had, had done before. And the, and the, and the, and the, so that the character of the American people who were propelled and were inspired and given confidence that they could proceed and accomplish things through organizations, private organizations, to achieve their own agenda. And their agendas are all directed at increasing participation in the political and economic process which is political and economic democracy.
That's great! How much we got? Want to just roll it off? Or—
The, the Memorial Day massacre cost ten individuals their lives, and others were injured, but it, but, it, it, it, it brought about the end of the use of gun power, of, of, of, of munitions powers of shooting power to, to stop unionization. Gun power won in the 1892 strike, and it defeated the 1919 strike. Girdler thought he could defeat the Little Steel strike with gun power. They shot down and killed ten people, and there was such an outrage of it, that it, it boomeranged on them and was a, really a gift on a silver platter to the steel workers union who was able then, with peaceful means of legislative, and, and, and judicial procedures to win the Little Steel strike four years after the Memorial Day massacre.
Would you say that as a result of the massacre, the organizing effort gained even more momentum, and garnered even more support than it had previously?
Well, the fail, the failure of the gun power at the Chicago Memorial Day massacre was reflected in the inability of industry and, and, and, and companies to use gun power to stop the union. And it gave the union a, a, a wide open door to proceed to unionize, which they did very successfully.
We'll roll the rest of it. Let's go: thirty seconds.
The, by, one of the, one of the big by-products of the Depression of the 1930s was opening the door for extending democratic rights and the Bill of Rights to the entire population of the country. The seeds for that were planted during the social action unionization and political action that followed, that was, that was germinated from the horrors and the, and, and the, and the deprivations of the Depression.
- The Great Depression
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- Interview with Harold Ruttenberg. Part 4
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- Film and Media Archive, Washington University in St. Louis (St. Louis, Missouri)
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- Interview with Harold J. Ruttenberg conducted for The Great Depression.
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- Raw Footage
- Copyright Film and Media Archive, Washington University in St. Louis. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/legalcode).
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Interviewee: Ruttenberg, Harold J.
Interviewer: James, Dante J.
Producing Organization: Blackside, Inc.
Writer: Malkames, Rick
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Film & Media Archive, Washington University in St. Louis
Identifier: cpbaacip151dn3zs2ks4z__fma261932int20120514_.h264.mp4 (AAPB Filename)
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- Chicago: “The Great Depression; Interview with Harold Ruttenberg. Part 4,” Film and Media Archive, Washington University in St. Louis, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 22, 2024, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-151-v40js9j20k.
- MLA: “The Great Depression; Interview with Harold Ruttenberg. Part 4.” Film and Media Archive, Washington University in St. Louis, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 22, 2024. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-151-v40js9j20k>.
- APA: The Great Depression; Interview with Harold Ruttenberg. Part 4. Boston, MA: Film and Media Archive, Washington University in St. Louis, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-151-v40js9j20k