National Recovery Act Invigorates the Working Man
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Fireside Chat on July 24, 1993 introduced working class Americans to the general purpose of the National Recovery Act (NRA). During his Chat, he promised us “the codes and the agreements already approved, or about to be passed upon, prove that the plan does raise wages, and that it does put people back to work” (Roosevelt 1933). Since July, this great stride for the American worker has improved our wages, working hours, and standard of living. Before the advent of the NRA, Americans were ready for change, any change to halt the downward spiral of unemployment, loss of life savings from the appalling bank failures, and consequential starvation blighting the nation. Upon his inauguration, FDR came ready to make changes in the foundation of the nation, and as Will Rogers said, “The whole country is with him . . . if he burned down the Capitol, we would cheer and say, ‘well we at least got a fire started anyhow’” (Shlaes 150).
Rogers’ quip is an exaggeration, but what it underscores is that FDR understood the American people needed a revolutionary act to reverse the desperation and misery haunting their lives, and the people knew he understood their plight. Before the NRA, child labor and unemployment were rampant. Businesses had no guidelines or moral reason to limit working hours, pay a man a fair wage, or even advertise with honesty. Ed Paulson, a migrant worker, describes a typical pre-NRA employment situation when he arrived at the Spreckles Sugar Refinery to try to get a job: “A thousand men would fight like a pack of Alaskan dogs to get through there. Only four of us would get through” (Terkel 30). Slim Collier, an itinerant farm worker, describes the general feeling of working Americans: “The dominant thing was this helpless despair and submission. There was anger and rebellion among a few, but, by and large, that quiet desperation and submission” (Terkel 97). Our President understood from the beginning that this “quiet desperation and submission” made America ripe for the changes he offered with the NRA and other New Deal programs.
FDR announced the adoption of the NRA on June 16, and he asked America, “Must we go on in many groping, disorganized, separate units to defeat or shall we move as one great team to victory?” (Shlades 151). The NRA promised improvements in the daily lives of working Americans. The nation needed change, and she got it with the NRA’s unprecedented measures attempting to resuscitate the drowning economy. Big and small businesses alike adopted the NRA’s codes creating a minimum wage, maximum working hours, pricing, and production quotas for each industry (Mintz 2007). With a few exceptions, it abolished child labor. Burgeoning Labor Unions continue today to pressure uncooperative businesses with strikes and collective bargaining to improve wages and working conditions (Schraff 63).
At first, not all working class Americans supported New Deal and NRA, but opinions changed once they personally benefitted from the unions’ strikes, the introduction of minimum wage, and changes to working hours. Dawn McCulloch recalls before the NRA, her father was “derisive” of the strikers. She said, “. . . this man put in seventy-two hours, he worked so hard, and he couldn’t see that it was necessary for people to strike. When the forty-hour week came through, boy, he really supported Roosevelt” (Terkel 100). Even avowed Republicans like Slim Collier’s father did an about-face, reflecting America’s desire for radical change; Collier laughed when he said, “Iowa is traditionally Republican. When my father was voting Democrat and announced it ahead of time—he voted for Roosevelt—it was something of a shock” (Terkel 97).
Now, with the New Deal and NRA leading America on a positive new path with its codes and agreements, businesses and citizens display the Blue Eagle and NRA slogan, “We Do Our Part” with pride. New York City’s Fifth Avenue saw 250,000 people marching in support of the NRA, accompanied by 200 bands (Britten and Brash 1998). Gardener C. Means, a member of the Consumer Advisory Board of the NRA said, “When [the NRA] was created, American business was completely demoralized. Violent price cutting and wage cutting . . . nobody could make any plans for tomorrow . . . It revived belief that something could be done” (Terkel 249). Phyllis Lorimer, a stunt person for Warner Brothers said, “In the midst of suddenly getting $7.50 a day for risking my life daily . . . and no overtime, I discovered what a good union could mean” (Terkel 103). Along with The Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) and the Public Works Administration (PWA), the NRA has ended a great deal of suffering for the American worker. James A. Farley, our postmaster general, summed it up saying, “The President saved our free enterprise system—he saved the banks. What he has done in these first hundred days—this was a tremendous job!” (Schraff 67).
What remains, now that the NRA is in place, is to see if businesses will fall into step with our President’s plans, cooperating to ensure the working class will truly benefit from the required industry codes. Though many businesses supportively display the Blue Eagle, some owners such as Henry Ford still resist unionization and collective bargaining (Shlaes 323). Businessmen are nervous about NRA codes of governmentally sponsored price fixing, product output quotas, and strictures on advertising (Schraff 64). Small businesses complain that because representatives of big business control NRA boards, the codes are damaging and inappropriate to the special concerns of small, local businesses that so many Americans depend upon (Mintz 2007). FDR said in July’s Fireside Chat, “I cannot guarantee the success of this nationwide plan, but the people of this country can guarantee its success” (Roosevelt 1933). The working men and businessmen of America are ready for success, and FDR is offering all a chance to work together to turn away from chaos, starvation, and misery if we work together and accept this great chance for national change.
Britten, Loretta and Brash, Sarah, eds. Our American Century: Hard Times: The 30s. Richmond, Virginia: Time-Life, 1998.
Mintz, S. The National Recovery Administration. Digital History, 2007. Web. <http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/database/article_display.cfm?HHID=472>
Roosevelt, Franklin Delano. Fireside Chat 3: On the National Recovery Administration. University of Virginia: Miller Center, 24 July 1933. Web. <http://millercenter.org/president/speeches/detail/3300>
Schraff, Anne E. The Great Depression and The New Deal. New York, NY: Franklin Watts, 1990.
Shlaes, Amity. The Forgotten Man. New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2007.
Studs, Terkel. Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression. New York, NY: Random House, 1970.