THE ACLU AND THE WAGNER ACT: An Inquiry into the Depression-Era Crisis of American Liberalism by Cletus E. Daniel

THE ACLU AND THE WAGNER ACT: An Inquiry into the Depression-Era Crisis of American Liberalism

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It is odd, thinks professor Daniel (Labor Relations, Cornell), that the ACLU, a bastion of liberalism, should have initially opposed passage of the Wagner Act guaranteeing union rights in employee-employer relations; and he comes up with a grandiose explanation in a short book. Focusing on ACLU founder Roger Baldwin, Daniel argues that Baldwin was caught up, in the middle 1930s, in a liberal questioning of the efficacy of reform in a capitalist society; like many others, Daniel thinks, Baldwin flirted with communism, only to return to the liberal fold. To make his theory plausible, Daniel has to rely on implication. Baldwin initially opposed the legislation and its bureaucratic antecedents in the National Recovery Act and National Labor Relations Board on the grounds that they blockaded minority union rights; since most of the minority unions were communist, and since the Communist party based its opposition on the same grounds, Daniel has the connection he needs. Further support comes from Baldwin's use of a ""fellow-traveler,"" Mary Van Kleeck, to chair various conferences, and from the presence of other ""left-wing"" members on the ACLU board. A second line of attack on the Wagner Act was opposition to federal interference in employee-employer relations, a line Baldwin followed Van Kleeck in taking. But the clincher for Daniel is that Baldwin changed from opposition to support of the legislation at the same time that the Communist International switched to a policy of cooperation with ""bourgeois"" unions. But since Baldwin's subsequent anti-communism suggests that he wasn't following a party line, Daniel's great coincidence winds up meaning very little. He gives no credence, meanwhile, to the possible validity of Baldwin's complaints; they could have no merit, in his view, because labor relations ""experts"" all supported the legislation. Through it all, Daniel shows little understanding of the nuances of Thirties politics, and an over-readiness to jump to conclusions.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1981
Publisher: New York State School of Industrial & Labor Relations, Cornell Univ. (Box 1000, Ithaca, N.Y. 14853)