What would be the reaction of American citizens to welfare recipients striking against the government which aided them?
In July, 1939, over one hundred thousand Works Projects Administration (WPA) workers protested a change in working hours and salary by striking. WPA, created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935, was an attempt to aid the unemployed through work relief programs. Earlier New Deal efforts at work relief, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) and Civil Works Administration (CWA), had not succeeded in meeting the demands of able-bodied, but idle workers.
WPA, however, faced a major problem that would recur throughout its existence: the rate of pay for the hired reliefer. Labor unions demanded that prevailing wages or union scale be paid to skilled WPA laborers. A complex, compromise solution in 1936 required the WPA employee to earn an established wage by working a limited number of hours based upon the union wage scale for his craft. (For example, a carpenter employed by WPA had to work 53 hours a month for his salary, a plumber 50 hours a month, and a bricklayer 48 1/2 hours per month.)
But a number of factors persuaded Congress to change the law by July, 1939, forcing skilled and unskilled WPA workers to labor 130 hours a month. Naturally, skilled WPA workers rebelled against this, and, led by various labor organizations like the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the Worker's Alliance, began a nation-wide series of strikes to persuade Congress to rescind its action.
Newspaper reaction, both through editorials and letters to the editor, can reflect and at the same time mold the reading public's views on various issues. Concerning the specific WPA strike of July, 1939, California newspaper reaction generally opposed the strike method of the WPA workers. Attacking WPA as too expensive, as a failure, or as a political tool of the Democrats, the press also portrayed striking WPA workers as lazy, unappreciative, or Communist-inspired. Organized labor also suffered criticism for advocating the strikes, abusing its power, and neglecting its responsibilities to the workers.
A minority of newspapers defended the WPA workers' right to strike by censuring FDR's apparent hypocritical stand by not obeying the Wagner Act. Other newspaper reaction maintained that poor working conditions and low pay justified the WPA workers' actions.
The WPA strike, however, ended in approximately two weeks. Public response, being completely adverse to the strikers' demands, forced the AFL to repudiate its leadership of the strikes, and had compelled President Roosevelt to declare that no one could strike against the government.
Gary M. Ross
Frederick G. Hoyt
Wilfred J. Airey
Master of Arts (MA)
Year Degree Awarded
Date (Title Page)
Library of Congress/MESH Subject Headings
United States. Work Projects Administration -- History; United States -- History -- 1933-1945
Loma Linda University Libraries
This title appears here courtesy of the author, who has granted Loma Linda University a limited, non-exclusive right to make this publication available to the public. The author retains all other copyrights.
White, Lawrence D., "Mutiny on the Bounty : California Newspaper Reaction to WPA Strikes in July 1939" (1979). Loma Linda University Electronic Theses, Dissertations & Projects. 679.
Loma Linda University Electronic Theses and Dissertations
Loma Linda University. Del E. Webb Memorial Library. University Archives