British Universities Film & Video Council

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Labour and Defense, U.S.A.


Series Name
The March of Time 6th Year


Issue No.
Date Released
Mar 1941
Length of issue (in feet)
Stories in this Issue:
  1. 1Labour and Defense, U.S.A.
  2. 2America Speaks Her Mind


Story No. within this Issue
1 / 2
The March of Time synopsis: As vital to national security as the soldier, sailor or airman are the workers - the "indispensables" of a great industrial offensive. In addition to her own armament programme, America today, by the will of her own people, is also working to supply Britain with all possible war materials. In order to carry out the largest production programme of their nation’s history, the people of the United States are looking anxiously to Washington for leadership. For upon the Department of Labour rests the responsibility for maintaining full-time production in vital industries.

Of America’s 46 million workers, nine million are members of trade unions, constituting the active and potent voice of U.S. labour. President Roosevelt has appointed a well-known labour man, Sidney Hillman to co-ordinate the workers for the defence programme. Oldest of U.S. labour groups is the A.F. of L. (American Federation of Labour), founded sixty years ago. William Green, head of the A.F. of L., has carried on a tradition of the aristocracy of the craft union. Members enjoy job protection, a high hourly wage scale; but membership is restricted by a heavy initiation fee. During the last war the A.F. of L. voted more than 3,000 strikes, many of which directly and seriously affected war industries.

One-time colleague of William Green, John L. Lewis in 1935 began battling for the wholesale organisation of labour in mass industries, without regard for A.F. of L.'s designations of craft or trade. After many disputes during the following year this new C.I.O. (Congress of Industrial Organisation) grew steadily. Today, under its new leader Philip Murray, once a Glasgow coal miner, the C.I.O. is losing no opportunity of recruiting new members, for, as the film points out, when factories are swamped with orders and when industry is booming recruiting is at its best. March of Time’s cameras follow various union agents in their work, interviewing non-union workers, explaining the doctrines of collective security for labour, helping efficient employees to get fair treatment and an adequate wage, also co-operating with employers on problems of those members whose work is below standard. The film traces briefly the growth of organised labour, showing scenes of strikes during the last war, the post war Boston police strike, Seattle’s general strike of 1919, outstanding labour leaders of that time such as Sam Gompers and Eugene V. Debs. After the depression years of the early thirties, when plants and factories began to re-open, American workers reformed their ranks on the U.S. labour front, and the March of Time shows how once again the professional strike-breaker featured in disputes, how with his squads of plug-uglies he was available at short notice to settle disturbances in his own way.

Late in 1940, six hundred A.F. of L. delegates gathered to discuss labour under the new national emergency. But instead of concentrating on a peaceful solution to labour’s divided factions, once again the convention ended with an oration by William Green against the C.I.O. Simultaneously the C.I.O. members met. John L. Lewis gave way to the new leader, Philip Murray, and spoke denying all the Press accusations that the policies of the C.I.O. adhered to Communism, Fascism or Nazism. Then in the autumn of 1940 began a series of strikes, which seemed to indicate that there would be another attempt of labour to make new gains during a war-time boom. And in Congress many members stressed the danger to the nation of these strikes, which, they stated, in times of production for defence, constituted sabotage. With the democratic countries looking to American industry for an unremitting effort, a united labour front is the only way in which the necessary output can be maintained. "For" concludes the Voice of Time, "in the few short months to come must be forged those arms to defend democracy which alone can save the rights of free men - and never in all our history has there been such need as now".
Researcher Comments
This story was included in Vol.7 No.5 of the US edition.
Industry and manufacture; Demonstrations; Labour relations; War and conflict; Employment
Written sources
Documentary News Letter   Vol.2 No.3 March 1941, p47.
Fielding, Raymond. The March of Time 1935-1951 (New York, 1978)   p266.
The March of Time Promotional Material   Lobby Card, Used for synopsis

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