Journal: Cohen, Making a New Deal
Lizabeth Cohen argues that the difference in workers lives between the 1920’s and 1930’s can be attributed to outside factors and can be attributed to their own desire to implement change. Cohen uses the backdrop of Chicago as her study group and focuses on the steel mills, agricultural and meatpacking industries, as well as a few other localized industries. She chose Chicago because she feels that it represents other industrialized cities and was the cross roads of transportation and communications.
The first third of the book covers explanations of the various ethnic groups and their respective neighborhoods and jobs during post WWI. It explains how these things contributed to the failure of worker unification during this time period. The issues that contributed to the weakness of unification were; geographic ...view middle of the document...
This division allowed employers to exploit differences in order to combat unification. This was done by creating different pay scales for native Americans, immigrants, blacks and even woman. In the case of International Harvester only Native American citizens could hold office of a representative. Cohen also goes on to say that ethnic prejudice was rooted in job competition. Employers would go so far as to create propaganda that would lead to ethnic prejudice, for example the quote about Italian laborers on page 41.
By the end of the 1920’s a new culture for shopping, banking and entertainment emerged. Many immigrants and first generation Americans began moving away from local and ethnic based avenues and turned to chain stores, federal banks, movies and radios. These things began to close the gap between ethnic fragmentations.
Cohen also discusses “welfare capitalism” and how some factories were beginning to understand that job turnover and workplace contention were costing them and instituted a paternalistic movement. In these movement policies to keep employees happy included wage incentives, vacation plans, pensions, stock ownership, and benefit packages. They even provided social outings, musical performances and other forms of recreation in hopes of reducing dependency on ethnic organizations and decrease the power of those groups. The manufacturers viewed “welfare capitalism” as a means to avoid a welfare state and the threat of increased government intervention in their affairs. This employer benevolence is deemed as “moral capitalism” which would shape the union movements in the 1930’s.
In the final three chapters Cohen discusses the political angle which she refers to at the beginning. During the early 20’s immigrants and first generation Americans were not as interested in national politics, because many of their needs and interests were met at a local level. However, due to the onset of the depression many of these local organizations could no longer meet their needs, thus they began looking elsewhere for answers.