Wagner Act Turns 77

When FDR signed the National Labor Relations Act (Wagner Act) into law on July 5, 1935, he declared:

“A better relationship between labor and management is the high purpose of this Act. By assuring the employees the right of collective bargaining it fosters the development of the employment contract on a sound and equitable basis. By providing an orderly procedure for determining who is entitled to represent the employees, it aims to remove one of the chief causes of wasteful economic strife. By preventing practices which tend to destroy the independence of labor, it seeks, for every worker within its scope, that freedom of choice and action which is justly his.”

Because of the Wagner Act, union membership increased dramatically throughout the 1930s, and by 1940 there were nearly 9 million union members in the United States. The system of orderly industrial relations that the Wagner Act helped to create led to an era of unprecedented productivity, improved working conditions, and increased wages and benefits.

Today, the Wagner Act stands as a testament to the reform efforts of the New Deal and to the tenacity of Senator Robert Wagner in guiding the bill through Congress so that it could be signed into law by President Roosevelt.

FDR and Senator Wagner

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, New York Governor Herbert Lehman, and Senator Robert F. Wagner at a campaign rally at Madison Square Garden, October 31, 1936. From the FDR Library Photo Collection, NPx 76-69(77).

For more on this topic, see the web article, FDR and the Wagner Act: “A Better Relationship Between Management and Labor.